The Career Expo links students directly to professionals in the areas of construction, utility contracting, highway contracting, electrical contracting, mechanical contracting, energy, mining and more. The Career Expo consists of hands on displays that allow students to engage with industry leaders, equipment and materials in order to tap into their unique skills and interests. The event also features the SkillsUSA State Championships, a competition that invites students to showcase their skills in a number of construction-related disciplines. This combined event is becoming increasing successful, drawing a record 7,500+ attendees in 2017.


2017 CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships Sets New Attendance Record, Helps Students and Industry Leaders Build Relationships

Story and Photos By Allen Allnoch

ATLANTA – If anyone doubts the value of a career in the construction industry, a few minutes listening to Kayleen McCabe should convince them otherwise.

“These are not just jobs to fill a space in between something else. This is something you can do full-time and be proud of it,” McCabe said at the CEFGA VIP and SkillsUSA Champions’ Breakfast on March 24, 2017.

The DIY Network personality – she hosts the popular “Rescue Renovation” – has an infectious enthusiasm for construction.

“We are artists,” McCabe continued. “I’ve seen projects that my plumbers and electricians have done, and I always feel bad covering up the drywall, because I’m thinking, ‘They worked really hard to make this look great.’ That kind of craftsmanship is really something to be proud of.”

McCabe was one of many passionate advocates for construction during the CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships. The March 23-24 event drew a record 7,544 total attendees to the Georgia International Convention Center – an 8 percent increase over last year – including 5,204 students, 936 influencers (parents, teachers, counselors, etc.) and 1,404 industry volunteers and guests.

With an aging workforce and a growing economy, Georgia’s construction industry is brimming with career opportunities for young people these days. According to the Associated General Contractors, Georgia has the fastest-growing construction sector in the South, with more than 12,000 jobs added in the past year and similar numbers expected in the immediate years ahead.

“I just had a young lady come by who’s interested in electrical work,” said Tony Varamo, Workforce Development Manager for Metro Power Electrical Contractors. “She’s getting both her high school diploma and an associate’s degree in instrumentation at the same time. I think students are starting to understand that the trades need people, and they’re really starting to get interested in our business.”

Varamo, who also serves as Chair of the CEFGA Board of Directors, was stationed at the World of Electrical, one of 14 “Worlds” offering students a look at the possibilities of a career in construction. These exhibit areas enabled visitors to learn about disciplines such as construction management, masonry, plumbing, energy and more; chat with company representatives; and have some hands-on fun with various interactive displays.

All around the sprawling expo floor, exposure was the buzzword among industry personnel.

“The biggest thing for me is I want to expose the tile industry to them, to let them know it is a relevant trade and that they can make a sustainable living in it,” said Rod Owen of C.C. Owen Tile Company. “We have to show young people there are options in this industry – that it’s not just a summer job, that it’s not a dead-end street.”

Outside the convention center, the popular World of Heavy Equipment drew a steady flow of students eager to try their hand at the controls of earthmoving equipment. Supervising the operation was Regina Shelnutt, Chief Operating Officer for Anderson Grading & Pipeline in Monroe.

“We want students to know that in our industry, we’re not just ditch diggers, that they can have a career path,” Shelnutt said. “We let them know that not every kid is made to go to college, and that there is a need today for skilled operators and skilled laborers.”

In a similar vein, Mary Long talked up the energy industry. “Our ultimate goal is career awareness, “ said Long, Oglethorpe Power’s Community Relations Coordinator. “We have a huge percentage of people who are retiring in the next five years and we don’t have enough people with the knowledge to fill those positions.

“Most [students] don’t know about the energy industry unless their parents are in it,” Long continued. “They just turn on the lights and it’s there. Really being able to explain what we do to them is eye-opening.”

Drywall is another career path that, according to Anning-Johnson’s Edwin Parra, is often overlooked. “It’s crazy,” Parra said, “because [drywall has] more people on a large site than any other industry out there. So I think the biggest benefit of this event is bringing awareness of the industry to our students.”

At the booth of Century Fire Protection, a first-time exhibitor at the 2017 CareerExpo, Human Resources Director Randi Risman explained her company’s work to curious students.

“We talk about how [fire protection] saves lives and saves businesses, and the responsibility involved,” Risman said. “I think it’s a good way to try to make connections with some of these young folks who are coming in. For the high schoolers, juniors and seniors especially, it may be a good pipeline for us down the road.”

While companies seek to raise awareness of their respective industries, the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) advocates for the skilled trades as a whole.

““We work all year to highlight the areas that you are focused on at this event,” GDEcD Deputy Commissioner Ben Hames said at the SkillsUSA Champions’ Breakfast.

Hames announced the availability of $1,000 scholarships and $500 grants from Trade Five, a newly rebranded public-private partnership between the GDEcD’s Workforce division and leading Georgia businesses. Trade Five focuses on enhancing the state’s talent pipeline in high-demand industries by educating Georgia’s future workforce on promising careers in construction and related fields.

Much of that talent pool is on display at the state SkillsUSA competitions that take place concurrently with the CareerExpo on the second day of the event. Carlos Jones Jr., teaches construction at Camden County High School and has been bringing standout students to SkillsUSA for years.

“I have it seen it grow and I look forward to it growing more,” Jones said. “I think with the support of industry, we’re going to see that. The key component is keeping industry involved and letting them see that these kids are the cream of the crop – that this is who you want to hire and put on your job site.”

Indeed, SkillsUSA has connected numerous competitors with future employers over the years. Joshua Willis, for example, represented Allison-Smith Co. at the 2017 CareerExpo; he’s been working for the company since impressing managers with his work at the 2011 competition.

“We always have someone here judging to see what the kids can do,” said Allison-Smith Project Manager and Vice-President Michael Mikko. “Joshua didn’t win the competition, but we knew he was a good candidate, and he’s been a good success story for us.”

Still, even if a SkillsUSA judge or a CareerExpo representative doesn’t walk away with a new hire, relationships are being built and ideas are taking root.

“I tell the people I bring in to help me, ‘Come here with the expectation that all you want to do is plant a seed,’” said Owen, who is involved on both the CareerExpo and SkillsUSA sides of the event. “So when a student leaves here, maybe two or three years later they remember that tile expo and want to know more [about a career].”

Parra, who chaired the Drywall Contest, agreed that the benefits, while not always immediate, are real nonetheless. “Even if we only get a small percentage of recruits,” Parra said, “it’s still worthwhile to come here because of the impact it will have for our industry and our community.”

And with increasing numbers of organizations and students realizing that, clearly the CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships is a win-win prospect for all involved.


2017 CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships

  • 7,544 Total Attendees
  • 5,204 Students
  • 936 Influencers (Teachers, Parents, Counselors and School Administrators)
  • 1,404 Industry Volunteers, Exhibitors and Other Guests

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