Internship Paves The Way For Construction Career

By Patti Ghezzi | September 28, 2010

During this school year, Decorious Barnes works for a department store, a decent job for a student. But last summer, Decorious got to work at a job he absolutely loved.

He wielded a sledgehammer during demolition time helping to renovate Campbell High School in Smyrna as a Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) Internship student, working for Joe Tuggle of Swofford Construction Inc. in Austell, Ga. Decorious, one of 36 high school students from across Georgia to earn a place in CEFGA's internship program last summer, became interested in building things when he was around 11 years old. He helped his father at his concrete business and watched several family friends excel in various construction fields. His mother supported his decision to pursue construction as a career.

"She's the type of mom who believes that whatever you are good at, you should go for it," he said proudly. "My elders, they're proud of me. They tell me I'm doing a great job. They say, 'Stay in school,' and that's what I'm doing."

Construction isn't Decorious' only passion. He also loves music, but he thinks of it more as an avocation than a vocation. "Construction is easier to get into than the music business," he says.

For the past three years, Decorious has studied construction at South Cobb High, where he has learned a wide variety of tools, applying math, reading and writing skills as well as learning the importance of safety. The skills he learned under his teachers, Terry Leavell and now Ike Gilbert, serve him well.

"You can't just go on a job site and know what to do. You have to have the knowledge," said Decorious as he spoke to his classmates.

Donna Moreno, career placement specialist for CEFGA, stopped by South Cobb High School recently to introduce the internship program to new construction students.

"If you make the right choices," she told them, "you can go very far in the construction business. The sky is the limit."

Moreno continued, "Starting out with the eight-week summer intern program, you can make a minimum of $8.50 per hour, and if you have a higher level and/or more skills you can ask for more. Companies recognize talent," she added, "and they are looking for future employees."

On this program, Decorious was paired with a mentor, who made sure he knew what he was doing and helped him learn to use tools he hadn't worked with before.

Decorious was a "very good man to have working with us," said Eric Johnston of Swofford, adding that many other employees on the site had no idea he was an intern.

"They treat you with respect," Decorious affirmed. "They didn't know I was a student. They thought I was a grown man."

Decorious looks to his family for positive influences. He knows he is fortunate, but those who don't have positive people in their lives shouldn't use that as an excuse, he said.

"If you don't have the influences," he said, "you can teach yourself."

Decorious focused on general construction during his internship. In the future, he would like to try electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, welding, and other specialties. Eventually, he hopes to one day go out on his own.

"I'll probably have my own business," he said. "That's my goal."

After graduating this spring from South Cobb High, he plans to return to work in construction. In fact, Decorious has already signed up for the internship program again for the summer of 2008.

As a successful student of the program, Decorious is looking at a bright future.

"If there were no houses, no stores, no schools, what would we do? We couldn't live," Decorious said. "That's construction. That's what I love about it."