Justin Akkerman

Today’s Young Trenchless Professionals: Justin Akkerman

Justin Akkerman, President, Akkerman Inc.

Even though the Akkerman name is synonymous with the trenchless technology, choosing to make his career a part of the industry that his family helped to build wasn’t a given. In fact, growing up, Justin Akkerman wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.

His family has been at the forefront of new installation trenchless equipment — Akkerman Inc. is a tunneling equipment manufacturer and its equipment is used on auger boring, microtunneling, pilot-tube microtunneling, pipe jacking, utility tunneling and sliplining applications around the globe. The Brownsdale, Minnesota-company was founded by Justin’s grandfather, Don, in 1973 and later run by his father, Maynard. Justin became Akkerman president in 2020.

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“I chose the trenchless industry because it’s been a big part of my family growing up,” Justin says. “[But] after high school, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to do my own thing.”

He graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, with an emphasis on structural. While in college, he worked two summers as a laborer in California on tunneling projects. He later interned at CAN Consulting Engineers in Minneapolis, a firm that happened to specialize in underground design projects. “During my time as a staff engineer on tunneling projects, this assured me that this where I wanted to be,” Justin remembers. “It was on a multi-tunnel project of smaller crossings in Davenport, Iowa, as an inspector, that I had my ‘A-Ha’ moment. I spent quite a bit of time with the tunneling crew, which happened to be using an Akkerman TBM system. Seeing how the crew took pride in their work and how the equipment was a part of their success made me want to eventually move back home and work for the family business.”

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He moved his family home to the Brownsdale area in 2014 and began his career at Akkerman Inc. as an operations manager. And he hasn’t looked back. “The trenchless industry is ever-evolving with new technology, which is fun to be a part of,” he says. “It still amazes me, showing up to a jobsite and visualizing the planned alignment and looking past the railroad, highway or river to the reception shaft on the other side and being confident in the technology and contractors that we can do this. When we explain to others outside of the industry what exactly we do, everyone is genuinely amazed and oftentimes have no idea this technology exists.”

He’s in awe of what the trenchless industry offers in terms of technology and opportunity — and, most importantly, the people, who fuel his trenchless drive. “Being part-owner of a company that provides solutions to the trenchless industry, drives me to be successful since I have employees and their families at the top of my mind,” Justin says. “Seeing our customers successful and coming back to Akkerman for solutions also drives me.”

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And he gets to interact and learn from seasoned vets, drinking in their knowledge about problem solving, identifying risks — jobsite savvy you can’t find in books. “I’ve learned, as my time as an engineer, listen to and observe the operators and crews on these projects. There is a lot to learn from them that can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, and I feel sometimes this is overlooked,” Justin says.

He’s proud to be a third-generation business owner and part of the growing next generation of trenchless technologists making their mark. He credits those innovators who came before him, creating this industry. “The pioneers of this industry had a vision and through their hard work and determination, the industry has become what it is today,” Justin says. “We owe it to them to keep progressing and educating other engineers, owners and contractors on the technology and tools this industry has to offer.”

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Justin also encourages young professionals to consider a career in the trenchless industry, no matter the sector, citing the people and opportunities trenchless affords. “What we all do in the trenchless technology industry is pretty amazing,” Justin says.

Sharon M. Bueno is the editor of Trenchless Technology.