Even though they are fresh out of high school, it isn’t exactly a longshot that Caleb Minton or Thomas Kellam will be vice presidents or even chief operating officer at the Vulcan Quarry in Elkin some day.
Sure, they’re interns right now, but Vulcan Materials Co.’s vice president of operations and the company’s CEO both started out as interns.
After their summer stints at Vulcan, Minton and Kellam will start classes at Surry Community College, with Minton studying machining and Kellam studying to become an electrician. They landed at Vulcan for the summer through the handiwork of Elkin High School alumnus Doug Reinhardt, who is one of the organizers of the new Blue and Gold Scholarship that assists Elkin graduates seeking education toward a skilled trades career. Both Minton and Kellam are scholarship recipients.
As the scholarship program got on its feet this year, Reinhardt wracked his brain for potential employers that would pair well as internships for scholarship awardees.
“I knew the business because I grew up just over the hill here and I heard the very first blast,” Reinhardt recalled.
He didn’t know anyone who worked for Vulcan, so he just sent a blind email inquiry. They were quick to respond. It turned out that Vulcan has an adopt-a-school partnership with Elkin High School, and quickly agreed to hire interns and donated $1,500 toward the scholarship program.
“I knew we had employees that went to Elkin High School,” said Denise Hallett, community and government relations manager for Vulcan’s mid-east division. “This looked like a perfect opportunity to align with what we need.”
Vulcan is the nation’s largest producer of crushed stone and is also a major player in the production of asphalt and concrete in other states, Hallett said.
“We are in more than 20 states and in Mexico, with more than 9,000 employees companywide working in over 375 communities,” Hallett said.
In Elkin, Vulcan employs 15 to 20 people, some of whom split their time working in both Elkin and at the Davie County location. The Elkin quarry began operating in 1959.
Just as the Blue and Gold Scholarship aims to help Elkin graduates pursue careers in skilled trades or healthcare while hopefully staying on to work in the community, Vulcan is also looking to proactively develop a workforce to meet its needs.
A decade ago, the sort of general national message to graduating seniors was that a four-year college degree was the only path to career success, said Nathan Dotson, human resources manager for Vulcan’s operations in North Carolina. Now, there’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople and, for Vulcan, the company’s recruitment strategy involves identifying applicants or employees with an aptitude and work ethic and then “we try to Vulcanize them,” he said.
Dotson looked back and two years ago to the day — in 2019 — the company had 30 applicants for a haul truck driver position. Today, there are four openings for that same role and there are zero applicants.
Starting pay for entry-level positions at the quarry ranges from $16 per hour to about $25 per hour. For seasoned and skilled workers, pay ranges from $75,000 to $100,000 per year.
For that kind of pay scale, “you have to work for it,” Dotson said.
Minton said he’s never had so much fun at work, and the internship experience will likely prompt him to seriously consider Vulcan as an employer when he finishes his machining training at Surry. Knowing what it would be like to work at Vulcan through his internship would make him “more comfortable” to take a job there, he said.
Minton, 18, drove the haul truck — a very large dump truck — the other day. He said he was “a little” nervous. He also helped replace a pulley on a piece of equipment that week. Landing the internship at Vulcan has transformed his summer.
He worked the past year at Chik-fil-A in Elkin. He said the internship offers a significant pay raise, in addition to the learning opportunities.
“I was pretty stoked,” he said.