Top 10 Under 40
The greater the challenge, the more Snowdon thrives
December 5, 2022 By Andrew Snook
Rock to Road magazine celebrates 10 of the aggregates and roadbuilding industry’s young professionals rising up the ranks in their respective positions.
Editor Andrew Snook had the opportunity to sit down and chat with all of the winners about what attracted them to the industry, their favourite projects, career advice for young people entering the industry.
Here is the third of 10 that we are featuring online this month.
Operations Manager Nelson Aggregate, Cambridge, Ont.
For Valerie Snowdon, getting into the aggregate industry was very much a family affair.
After working a variety of a positions including working at a machine shop creating orthodontics and aerospace products, she decided to join her father, John Krueger, at Nelson Aggregate (Waynco Myers), where he worked for 30 years.
“Ten years ago, my Dad was the lead hand and they were looking for a QC technician,” Valerie recalls. “I started in QC, but then they were short employees in the pit, so the operations manager asked if I minded helping out boots on the ground a little bit.”
Valerie took advantage of every opportunity she had to learn more about the business and found herself working within a wide range of positions at the company.
“I transitioned into learning the loaders, skid steers, haul trucks, screening plant and wash plants. I eventually transitioned to dispatch at that site, and have continued to work my way up,” Valerie says, adding that she learned a lot about the business from her father and her uncle, Joe Horn, who worked as an equipment operator and as a member of the maintenance crew with the company for 28 years.
“It was an amazing time because I got to work with family. We had a crew of six who were very knowledgeable and I learned a lot from them.”
Five years ago, a tragic workplace accident took the life of her uncle, Joe. Valerie chose to push through that tragic loss and work towards making a positive impact in her role in memory of her uncle. Valerie’s favourite aspect of working within the aggregates industry is the relationships formed over the past decade.
“It’s not an easy industry at times and can be very challenging however it can also be rewarding when you find similar, like-minded people with similar goals, for succeeding and putting safety first.”
One of the people she has a great working relationship with is Alex Caruana, national manager for Canadian aggregates at Polydeck, who nominated Valerie for the Top 10 Under 40 Award.
“Valerie is a textbook example of working hard to continuously learn and apply oneself. In doing so, she has progressed through various roles at Nelson Aggregate to where she is now as operations manager at the Waynco Pit. I have no doubt that Valerie will be a crucial part of Ontario’s aggregate industry,” Alex says. “Valerie is not just a dedicated problem solver, but she is also very willing to help others. Recently, when another aggregate operations manager had a problem that Valerie had gained quite a bit of knowledge about, Valerie did not hesitate to share solutions with them so that their operation could bounce back into production quickly. Valerie belongs in the Top 10 Under 40!”
When asked about one of the projects that Valerie is most proud to have been a part of, she thinks of the ongoing highway improvement project still ongoing in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge (KWC) area.
“I was the quality manager a couple of years ago and we were one of the main suppliers. This was rewarding because it’s in my home city, Cambridge, five minutes from where I live. I was out there sampling ensuring quality products were going into the work. Knowing it came from your pit is something to be proud of,” she says.
When asked about the challenges facing the industry, Valerie says recruiting employees is probably the most challenging.
“It’s a difficult industry, we work very hard for nine months of the year for 10- to 12-hour days on a regular basis. It’s like that old saying, ‘Make hay when the sun shines.’ When you bring in the elements of upwards of 40C in the summer months, and then in the fall you’re working out there when it’s -15C, finding individuals that don’t mind getting their hands dirty and working in those tougher days is probably the hardest part of the industry,” she says.
Valerie says more education efforts could be made by the aggregate industry to help educate young people about the various career opportunities in the sector.
“Prior to coming on board, I knew my Dad came to a pit but didn’t fully understand what he did,” she recalls. “There definitely could be more awareness brought to job fairs and high schools to educate younger people on what we do. Everyone understands the construction aspect of roadwork, you see that as a kid driving past it all the time. But you never see quarries with blasting, extraction, or the crushing aspects to get it down to the final products.”
Being a woman in the aggregates sector has also created some hurdles for Valerie to overcome.
“You need to have tough skin as there are times where you may need to work a little harder or may not be taken seriously. This can be disheartening; however, there are equally a number of fantastic men that I have encountered through my 10 years that are beyond supportive that I have wonderful friendships with.”
When asked what advice she would give to young people considering a career in the aggregates industry, Valerie says to take a good look at all the different career options available in the sector.
“It can be a tough industry, but it’s a very rewarding industry. There’s lots of room for growth, whether you work in the sand and gravel pit or the construction on the side of the highway. Every day brings new challenges, no two days are ever the same, it can be fun in that respect,” she says. “It’s an industry that’s always going to be around. There’s always going to be infrastructure needs, and there’s long-term employment in it. There’s lots of departments, whether it’s the sales side, quality, safety, equipment, there’s somewhere you’d fit. My dad always says it’s like a kid playing in the sand box, if you’re into machinery, it’s an industry you’re made for.”
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