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Women in the auto recycling industry – An interview with ARA’s Sandy Blalock

Auto Recycling is traditionally a male-dominated industry but scratch the surface and you’ll discover many women with various roles within auto recycling, to highlight this, Auto Recycling World spoke to Sandy Blalock, Executive Director of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) in the US, about her background, how she came to be in the position she is today, where she sees the future of the vehicle recycling and how more females are becoming involved in the industry.

 

 auto recycling industry - An interview with ARA’s Sandy Blalock view
Sandy Blalock

Can you provide some background about yourself? Have you always been involved in auto recycling, and how has it come about becoming the Executive Director of ARA? 

My first career was in the medical field; however, our family-owned and operated an auto recycling business since 1984. In 1993 at the retirement of my father-in-law, we decided it was a good opportunity for me to manage the family-owned business in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I did so alongside my two sons until the company was sold in 2010. At that time, I chose to remain involved with the industry as an advocate. I started several state auto recycling associations and continued my work with ARA.

I have always been involved with ARA as I saw that to be essential for my business. I have served on several committees, including the Executive Committee and served as the ARA President 2007-2008. A few years ago, I was asked to step into the role as the interim Executive Director and was subsequently asked to remain on board. I feel honoured to be trusted with managing a great team here at ARA who consistently strive to give their all to our members and the industry.

What does the role of Executive Director of the ARA entail, and how has it evolved since taking the post?

The role of the Executive Director, I believe, is to be a great leader to my team. We were facing some challenges when I was asked to step in. However, with great teamwork, we brought everything back around to assure we are meeting the needs of our members while paying close attention to everything that may impede forward-moving progress for auto recycling. We have faced many challenges over the last few years with the OEM’s wanting to control the use of recycled original equipment usage using our legislative process in multiple states in the US. We have updated and restructured our certification programme and put it on an electronic platform for use by our CAR and Gold Seal certified members.

We brought many more benefits to members along with the free access for direct members to our very own ARA University.

I am most proud of our ARA team for facing the COVID-19 crisis head-on. We scrambled in the beginning just trying to keep ahead of the hourly changes taking place so we could advise our members on what their rights and responsibilities were. Auto Recycling in the US was deemed an “Essential Business” which allowed auto recyclers to stay open during the pandemic.  

It would seem that auto recycling is a male-dominated industry. However, scratch the surface and talk to any yard owner. Eventually, a wife or mother will be mentioned who works in the background and is usually a great influence on that individual company. Why do you think that females in the industry receive the recognition they deserve and do you think this is changing? Will we see more women getting the recognition they deserve in the future?

I certainly hope so. There have been many women working in our industry for a very long time. Ginny Whelan, Fran Reitman and I started a group just for that reason. The Ladies of ARA (LARA) meets annually at the ARA Annual Convention either for breakfast or lunch to discuss the growing roles of women in our industry. From a small group, when we began, we now usually have 75-80 women and growing every year from all segments of auto recycling. We invite all ladies to join us to discuss their journey, their hopes and dreams and learn from others how they transitioned from the atypical support staff to front line sales, inventory management, deliveries and even some dismantlers. 

It is inspiring to me to see so many more women working in our industry from the very few there were when I started my journey in auto recycling.

With someone like yourself in such a position and spearheading the future of auto recycling in the USA, do you think it will help inspire females to become more involved in auto recycling? How can they get involved with the organisation and what can you offer them?

We are always looking for people to serve on committees and get involved with ARA. That’s probably how I ended up here today. Our industry is changing so rapidly now we need creative and innovative thinkers helping us to forge forward. I think women bring a very special and creative touch that is badly needed in changing times. I think women are more adept at multitasking that makes them a perfect fit in our industry and working with our organisation. Anyone reading this who knows a good woman looking to get involved, please have her give me a call (you guys can call too!).

No interview in 2020 can escape mentioning COVID-19. How did this affect the ARA, and how did you go about supporting your members through such a difficult time?

That was indeed a unique challenge made even more challenging as we were short staffed with our State Legislative Director on maternity leave. We reached out to not only legislators and their staff but many of our strategic partners like AutoCare, LKQ, ISRI and others who were facing the same crisis. It was fast-moving and required hours of research to keep abreast of the changes coming in from not only our federal government but all 50 states as well as international.  

People were scared and needed a clear view of what to expect. We created a daily COVID-19 update that was emailed to all our members and our affiliates. We had several of our supports reach out to help us start a COVID-19 Relief fund that has now handed out about $50,000 to ARA members and members of our Affiliate Chapters. 

We revamped the website so all the materials and resources could be readily available and found easily by not only our members but all recyclers. Our job in times like these is to help and protect the entire industry. I think our ARA team did an awesome job making sure all auto recyclers were kept informed during this pandemic.

Hopefully, now that the worst is behind us and that we learn to live with the virus and the changes that it has brought, but how has it changed the industry in the USA? Do you think there have been many positives as your members adapted and adjusted to the new normal of living with COVID?

I have heard some amazing stories of how our industry members adapted to this pandemic. I always look for a positive side to any crisis and have heard many say they intend to continue with some of the changes they made to adapt, and what is most heartening is they felt they had learned so many valuable lessons that will help them be successful in the future. I also hear that many are already back at it full steam ahead and some with improved sales figures. Auto recyclers are resilient and know how to adapt quickly, like so many have. I think the biggest challenge for many will be filling empty job slots to get back to full-staff for those that were forced to furlough employees.

As the Executive Director of the ARA, can you provide us with what you see as the biggest challenges facing the auto recycling industry, how you hope to tackle them and how you think the industry might change in the next ten years?

I believe the changing fleet of vehicles will have a big impact on our industry. As more and more manufacturers move a greater number of their models into the EV market, our industry will have to adapt and be prepared to handle more EVs at end of life. That will mean more training and a more cooperative relationship with battery recyclers and the OEM’s. We, as an association, will need to continue our educational efforts to assure auto recyclers will have access to the information they will need to process electric vehicles.  

Finally, with your involvement in the vehicle recycling industry, over the years, what do you think have been the most significant changes and is it a very different industry to when you became involved?

It is indeed a very different industry in many respects. Technology has allowed auto recyclers to reach a greater base of customers as well as set up collaborative trading amongst themselves. I like that more women are working in our industry at all levels within the operations of the facilities and are more readily accepted than when I first began working in auto recycling. 

Technology has also allowed a greater level of communication for the industry. Recyclers share tips and information daily on multiple platforms such as through Facebook and YouTube. Auto recyclers have always been adaptive to change, and with all the new technology they are making, some of those changes more quickly than ever before.   

Overall technology and the changes in vehicles have been what I believe the two most important changes. Auto recyclers have adapted as change has happened and I have no doubt they will continue to do so now and in the future. We have to adapt in order to flourish.

Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life – Ben Franklin.

To contact Sandy, please email sandy@a-r-a.org or visit Automotive Recyclers Association 

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