Planting Mustard Seeds

Earlier this year, Jessica Palmer, executive director of the South Carolina Aggregates Association, shared an association LinkedIn post, simply titling it “Mustard Seeds.” The post highlights the importance of engaging the next generation and exposing them to the opportunities that exist in the trades. It noted that “change starts with us, and often times, making the greatest impact is as simple as starting with the people closest to us.”

Palmer and the association’s member services administrator, Ashley Knapp, did just that. Over winter break, they took Palmer’s daughter and Knapp’s son to tour Heidelberg Materials’ Sandy Flat Quarry where Vulcan Materials Co.’s Salley Lewis and Heidelberg Materials’ Kaylee Jones provided a high-level industry overview to the 13-year-olds.

“He thought it was pretty cool. He’d never seen anything like it,” Knapp said of her son’s reaction. “He was excited and wanted to invite his class out for a field trip.” For Palmer, showcasing the vital role of women in the industry was an important life lesson for her daughter. She wants all young women to understand that all pathways are open for them to explore. It’s simply a matter of understanding what options are available and discovering a passion.

Jessica Palmer (second from left) and Ashley Knapp (far right) spent a day of their children’s winter break touring a quarry and highlighting the career opportunities that exist for them.

Reaching Out to Schools
Workforce development is a major area of focus for the association, tracing its roots to Palmer’s previous role in education with the Carolinas Ready Mixed Concrete Association. Shortly after she joined SCAA, the board of directors voted to become a partner with Be Pro, Be Proud South Carolina.

The program is an initiative from the Associated Industries of South Carolina Foundation. Its mission is to bring a new generation of pride, progress, and professionals to the state’s skilled workforce.

Be Pro brings what is essentially a semi-truck loaded with information on various trades as well as equipment simulators to various schools and tour sites to showcase skilled career options. It highlights electricians, welders, mechanics, heavy equipment operators, CDL drivers and more.

And it includes elements that allow students to touch, see, feel, and learn about potential careers. One particularly strong element, Palmer says, it that the program has class ambassadors who come in and teach their peers about these opportunities.

On April 12, the SCAA is working with its members to host an event at Vulcan’s Lakeside Quarry in Piedmont, S.C. They hope to draw 150 attendees from area middle schools, high schools, and trade schools. The day will include stations that rotate students between the Be Pro truck, areas set up by associate members to explain what their companies do and what they offer, and a quarry tour. While it is the first event of its kind for the association, it seems unlikely to be the last.

“I started outreach with different trade schools using this Be Pro, Be Proud tour as a springboard,” Palmer said. “Trying to do email blasts just doesn’t work. So, we’re doing outreach days and visiting schools. We’re going to put ourselves out there to let schools know we are here and that we’re a resource.”

She and other SCAA staff members are meeting with school principals and counselors and explaining opportunities in the industry. Having been in the industry for more than a decade Palmer said that she now finds school officials more receptive to discussions of non-college careers.

“I feel like they have a better grasp of it, and people are more open to it,” she explained, adding that COVID may have influenced that change as it created a greater awareness of the need for people who could work in the skilled trades.

Fostering More Opportunities
Palmer said she plans to continue to grow the workforce development program. For example, she may expand the association website to include career snapshots for industry careers. “This isn’t a one and done,” she said of the quarry event. “This is just the first time we’re doing it. We’re hoping it will change the narrative around career options.”

SCAA is doing an exemplary job of promoting the aggregates industry to potential future workers and the symbol of the mustard seed is certainly appropriate. Incredible growth can take place from the smallest of beginnings. With Bring a Kid to Work Day coming up on April 25, it might be time for more of us to plant those mustard seeds.

Therese Dunphy has covered the aggregates industry for nearly 30 years, while also serving multiple roles as a public official. As the owner of Stone Age Communications, she provides communications consulting services to help aggregate producers build stronger relationships within the communities they serve. She can be reached at [email protected].

Related posts