Nothing teaches like a shared experience - 2023 Maintenance Conference highlights

DSC_6286CWe can learn a lot from each other but connecting can be tough to do when one person works out of Rock Rapids and another from Davenport. Each year the Maintenance Bureau tries to bridge the geographic gap by bringing hundreds of Iowa DOTers together in one spot to get updated information and spend time together sharing experiences.

Craig Bargfrede
Craig Bargfrede, Iowa DOT winter operations administrator, addresses the group.

For nearly 20 years, Maintenance Conference attendees have gathered each year to talk about what works, what can be improved on, and what is coming in the future of highway maintenance. Craig Bargfrede, winter operations administrator, said, “We’re seeing a lot of new highway maintenance supervisors coming on board. This conference is a great opportunity for them to meet their more seasoned counterparts face-to-face to ask questions, share ideas and simply put a face to a name. For many, this is the only face-to-face contact they have with other supervisors and co-workers outside their area all year long.”

With worker safety as a top priority, that theme was woven into several of the presentations at the conference. “Safety isn’t just making it back home each day,” explained Bargfrede. “As an agency, we’re taking a much more proactive approach to make sure our folks are mentally dealing with some of the tragic things they witness on the road through the Shawn Havick Memorial Response Program. We were honored to have Shawn’s wife, LaDonna, at the conference to talk about her family’s commitment to our employees.”

Havick family
Iowa DOT Director Scott Marler, far right and Operations Division Director Dave Lorenzen, far right, with the Havick Family.

We’re all human beings and we are wired to need community, so establishing bonds with co-workers is another important element of the yearly gathering. Brandon Brimm, highway maintenance supervisor in Creston highlighted the relationships that are built at meetings like this one. He said,  “This conference gives us a chance to meet new people and build those connections/relationships to make us better leaders. I don’t know everything there is to know, so by building relationships, I can feel more comfortable reaching out to a network of people leaders to better my team and myself. We have a wealth of knowledge within the DOT and all of us need to be able to tap into that knowledge to better serve the DOT as a whole.”

Vendor booths
Vendor booths showcase current and upcoming technologies.

The conference agenda was a mix of presentations, panel discussions, and vendor displays that kept attendees engaged, updated, and informed.  From details on our roadside development projects to changes in the way supervisors order and receive supplies, there was no shortage of information.

Cory Kirkpatrick, the highway maintenance supervisor in De Soto, said, “I get so excited to go and interact with all my ‘DOT Family’ from across the state. Everyone has the same goal: simplify the workload and make the roads safer for the public and the crews with the new technology being developed. I think getting together is important because we are introduced to new technology and we get to see state-of-the-art equipment that is coming out and already in production.

Others agree with Kirkpatrick’s take on gathering to see the same thing at the same time. Pete Andera, the highway maintenance supervisor in Mason City, said, “I think it’s important to get everybody up to speed with the changes that have occurred from the previous year.”

Matt Heuvelmann, highway maintenance supervisor in Sigourney, added, “This event is important to get to interact with the other districts, see the new products available to us from the vendors, and to see the new equipment as well.  It is always good to get us together in my eyes to keep the DOT family bonding strong. It’s great to catch up with folks you haven’t seen in a year and listen to them share what is happening in their lives, whether it is from work or home. 

Travis Dressen
Travis Dressen, Mitchell Region Engineer, South Dakota DOT.

One of this year’s speakers was Travis Dressen from the South Dakota DOT, who left an impression on attendees regarding both operations and life philosophies.

Brandon Lafrenz, highway maintenance supervisor in the Grinnell circle, said, “One of my biggest takeaways from this year’s conference would have to be the South Dakota DOT’s best practices for winter operations presentation. I found it interesting that there are so many similarities in our approach versus theirs when fighting winter events, but at the same time, we are very different in many ways. For instance, South Dakota has implemented adding blue strobe lights to all of their full-time snow plows; a safety initiative that hopes to drastically decrease plow hits. The speaker expressed appreciation to the Iowa DOT for our blue/white light project feedback.”

Heuvelmann said, “What I absorbed from the guest speaker was life will always have its ups/downs. Never give up and work hard towards your goals.”

The conference was extremely successful in strengthening professional relationships, creating opportunities to connect, and providing information to carry back to teams. It is just another example of how the DOT is committed to making an investment in improving engagement by giving you opportunities to learn and grow.

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