Georgia High Schoolers Explore Construction Careers

By Patti Ghezzi | September 28, 2010

The Third Annual Construction Education Foundation of Georgia Career Expo & SkillsUSA Championships came to Georgia's Gwinnett County recently, drawing more than 3,000 participants and 150 companies from across the state. This year, 92 schools attended the expo, up from 50 the first year.

"Every year it grows," said Scott Shelar, executive director of the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia, which organizes the expo.

During the event, contractors and other industry firms set up hands-on activities ranging from operating heavy equipment to pouring concrete — and the response from the students was great.

"I'm hoping to learn more about building, about what goes on behind the walls," said Anthony Brown, a 17-year-old junior from Crim High School in Atlanta. "And I'm hoping to get a job."

Construction is booming in Georgia, offering good salaries and working conditions for young people.

"It's not a fit for everybody," said Ralph Blessing, corporate safety director for mechanical contracting and engineering company McKenney's Inc. But superintendents are looking for self-starters, he said — and he got students' attention when he showed them pictures of projects such as the Georgia Aquarium.

Ellen Jones and Chandra Moore, both seniors from Douglass High School in Atlanta, said they want to get into project management.

"We want to know what kind of salaries we can expect and what kind of experience employers are looking for," said Chandra.

On their part, companies were pleased with what they saw.

"We've met some really sharp kids," said Phil Greeves of JAMCO, Johnson Architectural Metal Company. Among them was Andrew Boyd, a senior from Lamar County, who said he was "getting an idea of what I can do in terms of a career. They've got a lot of stuff to choose from."

And what were the employers looking for?

"We're looking for someone with a commitment to work hard. If you want to learn something new every day, this is the place to be," noted Joshua Gregory, assistant project manager at Batson-Cook Construction.

Teachers said the event gave students a chance to see firsthand what they've been learning about in the classroom. Barney Poole, a teacher at Mary Persons High School in Monroe County, added, "I also hope they see how large the construction industry is."

Tony Shore of Maxwell High School of Technology in Gwinnett County, praised CEFGA and the industry representatives involved in the event.

"They are giving of themselves today," he said, "so these young people can make decisions that affect their future."