Jodi Zwart’s love of learning offers unlimited potential to Woodard’s Concrete Products.
By Mason Nichols
For more than half a century, Woodard’s Concrete Products of Bullville, N.Y., has manufactured quality precast concrete for customers throughout the Northeast. The Zwart family has worked hard to improve their business by expanding the company’s product line from concrete well tiles in 1965 to catch basins, manholes, custom products and more today.
The business holds incredible importance for the Zwarts, but one family member was initially convinced her future did not include working in the precast concrete industry.
“I really had no interest in it when I was younger, other than when I needed a summer job,” said Jodi Zwart, daughter of Bobby Zwart, the company’s president. “And when I did work at the plant, dad would have me weed whack and do all the dirty work.”
As a result, Jodi pursued a different career path, attending the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., to study speech and hearing sciences. Her goal was to become an audiologist. Motivated by her love of learning, Jodi finished college in three years and secured an internship. Everything was going according to plan, until, suddenly, it wasn’t.
Jodi quickly discovered office work wasn’t for her.
Luckily, her father had a solution. He reminded Jodi that plenty of work was available at the family business. With bills to pay and a recently purchased house to maintain, Jodi returned to Woodard’s, this time with a new appreciation and a new role.
“When I first came back to the plant, I started out doing custom orders – a lot of wall panel work,” Jodi said. “I ended up liking it more than anything.”
As Jodi continued to pick up more responsibilities at the plant and eventually moved into her role as production manager, her appetite for learning remained insatiable. While attending The Precast Show 2012 in Orlando, she learned about Precast University and the Master Precaster program from Ethan Camp of Camp Precast. Jodi was intrigued by the coursework, which includes everything from basic production practices to advanced leadership skills. Something else also motivated her to sign up.
“I asked my dad if he had the Master Precaster certification, and he didn’t,” she said. “I thought it would be cool for me to get it.”
Enrolling in the program made perfect sense for Jodi. During her time in college, she had considered continuing her education and working toward earning a master’s degree or Ph.D. Now, through Precast University, she could fulfill her desire to learn while simultaneously enhancing her understanding of all aspects of the precast concrete industry.
Though Jodi enjoyed all the classes in the program, she was particularly fond of the technical course, which allowed her to obtain a better understanding of everyday tasks at the plant.
“Before taking that class, I didn’t consider the reasoning behind what I was doing at work each day,” she said. “Afterwards, I realized there was a reason why you lift a piece in a specific way.”
In addition to gaining a newfound appreciation for her work, Jodi said she also benefitted tremendously from the networking opportunities afforded by the Master Precaster program.
“You get a chance to meet other people in the industry that you become friends with and who will support you for the rest of your career,” she said. “I don’t think I would know as many people as I do in the industry if I hadn’t enrolled in the program.”
Jodi earned her Master Precaster designation at The Precast Show 2017 in Cleveland. Next, she hopes to join the 2018 Leadership NPCA cohort and continue refining her skills as a precast professional.
By earning her gold hardhat, Jodi hasn’t only made her family proud – she’s also ensured that she will be able to keep Woodard’s Concrete Products on the path to success as the company continues to evolve along with the ever-changing precast concrete industry.
“I think where I’m going in this field – especially with the position I’m in with taking over the family business one day – the Master Precaster program has helped fill in the gaps,” she said. “It’s really helped tie everything together.”
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s director of strategic outreach.