Thirty-three year old Jason Blair is Systems and Plant Manager at the Fulton Hogan and Palmers & Sons co-owned Walton Park Sand Quarry at Fairfield near Dunedin. Also the youngest IoQ branch chairman, who spoke with Richard Silcock about what made him decide on a career in quarrying and his aspirations for the future.
After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Otago University majoring in marketing and accountancy in 2010, Jason completed a management trainee programme with Queenstown-based international company, Skyline Enterprises.
In 2013 he was appointed activities supervisor at Skyline’s Rotorua cableway and luge operation before he headed off like most Kiwi’s on an OE, taking in the UK, Europe and Canada where he ended up working at Skyline’s Calgary and Mont Tremblant (Canada) luge facilities for four years as operations manager and then general manager responsible for running the facility, staff training, marketing and occupational health and safety systems.
He then spent five months in Singapore helping to set-up the company’s training and safety systems for a new luge facility on Santosa Island.
“It was a great job and I really enjoyed working for Skyline and in the tourism sector, which is all about people enjoying themselves essentially,” says Jason.
On returning to New Zealand in 2019 he was offered a job at Walton Park Sand Quarry, where he had previously worked part-time over university semesters.
“My uncle and grandfather had both worked in the quarry industry so it held a certain fascination for me and it must have been in the blood for although I had come from growing up on my parent’s farm in Otago, I enjoyed what working in a quarry was all about.
“Yes, it is totally different to farming and tourism and is a totally different culture and demographic, but the pay is better for the hours worked and I have found if you work hard the rewards are there. Furthermore, and with the benefit of hindsight, the Covid pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard with far less people travelling and it could be a while before it fully recovers.
“The company funded my CoC qualification which was great and it provided me with a good foundation to progress and manage the quarry operations. My health and safety background has been a bonus, for although the Canadian and Singapore jobs had a different set of requirements, I found the management skills very similar and transferable to a quarry scenario.
“I was appointed manager of the quarry in July 2021 and have a team of four working on site. We put through 80,000 tonnes of sand on average each year essentially for the local concrete industry and builders for use in foundations and flooring construction.
“My team are pretty skilled in what they do and take health safety seriously. We operate a pretty basic plant, with a couple of excavators, a wash plant with two screens and a scrubber, a dryer with a six screen deck and a grading unit.
Asked what he liked most about the industry, Jason says it is all about the camaraderie as the industry as a whole is a bit like a big close knit family.
“If I have a problem or want some advice, I can usually pick up the phone and talk with someone who can help, offer assistance and provide support – whether it’s a machinery issue or operational issue there is always someone out there who can assist when needed. This helps to build confidence in what you are doing and there are plenty of the older generation still in the industry with tons of experience who, along with the IoQ and AQA, are always happy to provide helpful advice.”
Conversely, he says, not being a morning person, he finds the early 7am starts a bit daunting and working outside in the winter can also be a bit challenging especially when the temperature drops below freezing.
Jason was elected chair of the Otago/Southland branch of IoQ in 2019 and was instrumental in putting together and running a local mini-conference in lieu of the national conference which was cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020.
“It was a great success with 120 members attending the two-day event which was held in Gore,” says Jason. “We secured sponsorship and speakers from Terra Cat, Transdiesel, WorkSafe, NZTA, Blackhead Quarries, Mito, Komatsu, Mimico, Real Steel, AB Equipment, Advancequip, CablePrice, Equip2 and Crushing and Mining Supplies. And, we kept it relevant to local needs covering a range of topics including H&S, working under pandemic conditions, marketing, new equipment, and driving efficiencies in quarry operations.
“If I had any regrets as far as my career goes, I don’t have any,” he says. “Quarrying is a pretty stable industry to be in and there will always be a need for sand and aggregate.
“The site here at Walton Park is estimated to have sufficient supplies of sand for the next 120-150 years so it will outlast me,” he says, laughing. “The only thing I really miss is the travel that the tourism sector provided – but hey, once the opportunity arises post Covid, I’ll still be able to travel for holidays with my partner.
“I’d quite like to have the opportunity of working at a larger quarry to further my management and leadership skills and add to my experience and perhaps one day I would like to become a director of a large quarry company either here or overseas.
“Quarrying is a continually evolving industry, with new plant, equipment and technology being developed which leads to some greater efficiencies. However legislation needs to keep pace with the needs of quarrying and I see a need for more transparency in what we do in regards to ‘educating’ government and the general public.
“We are an industry that is a bit out-of-site-out-of-mind and only get publicity when things like dust and noise intrude on a neighbourhood and while I understand people don’t want a quarry in their backyard, most quarries these days mitigate that and take care of the environment.
“If quarries are driven further away the cost of supply will undoubtedly increase due to transportation over a longer distance, which in turn will drive up the cost of construction and building.
“I’m excited about working in this industry and I am buoyed up about the future and what it holds for me going forward.”
Jason lists his recreational interests as water and snow skiing, mountain biking, fishing, hunting and travelling.