Taking Her Career to a New Level

TCWFI Graduate and Painting Apprentice Michelle Jones Enjoys a View from the Top

Photos and Story by
Allen Allnoch

It’s fitting that Michelle Jones works high above Northside Drive, with unimpeded views of Atlanta’s skyline and suburbs. It wasn’t too long ago that she was pretty low, literally and figuratively. Now, as an apprenticing painter with Champion Painting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, she feels like she’s on top of the world.

Michelle is a graduate of Construction Ready at TCWFI (The Center for Working Families, Inc.), a partnership that serves residents south of I-20.

Michelle moved from Savannah to Atlanta in 1988 and worked more than 20 years in retail, most recently as an area supervisor and receiving manager for Ross. When she lost her job there, she went to TCFWI for help. Amber Bell, TCWFI’s placement and retention coordinator, directed her to the Construction Ready program, and she became part of the first group of graduates in June 2016.

Chatting with a visitor at the offices of Holder Hunt Russell Moody (HHRM), the joint venture that manages Mercedes-Benz Stadium construction, Michelle proudly pulls out her wallet and displays her certification cards, one by one, on a table.

She recognizes those certifications as part of what makes Construction Ready graduates so marketable. She’s also taking advantage of every opportunity to continue her education. Her union, for examples, regularly offers classes; lately she’s been studying industrial painting.

“Every day is a learning experience for me,” she says. “You never stop learning. That’s a powerful thing Construction Ready taught me – you just keep going and going. I’m very grateful that somebody thought to design Construction Ready, and I was blessed to be a part of it.”

Of course, an apprenticeship, by its very definition, is also all about learning. And Michelle has been learning a lot in a very real-world environment – an open-air one hundreds of feet above the city.

“It’s very exciting,” she says. “I realize that at age 47, I’m a crazy old lady – a crazy old lady with courage. It’s very challenging, but I like it.”

As an apprentice, Michelle can opt out of certain tasks if she feels uncomfortable. And some things are simply out of her reach because she’s not tall enough.

“But I’m always willing to try,” she says. “I ask myself, ‘Is this something I’m going to be comfortable with?’ I’ve come to realize I’m not afraid of heights. It’s just a matter of whether I’m comfortable in terms of reaching certain steps or handholds. So sometimes we have to look for other areas that are better suited for me.”

Michelle’s apprenticeship is three years, and she has an ultimate goal for her painting career. “I’m not sure yet if this is what I want to do [long-term], but at some point I want to paint some bridges,” she says. “Once I do that, I might be content.”

The free, four-week Construction Ready at TCWFI program equips low-income residents with the necessary skills, tools and supports to secure employment in one of Atlanta’s fastest growing industries. It is part of broader efforts by WorkSource Atlanta , Atlanta CareerRisethe Construction Education Foundation of Georgia and the Center for Working Families, Inc., a long-time Annie E. Casey grantee, to provide greater economic and employment opportunities to families in and around NPU-V — a set of city neighborhoods the Foundation has been working to revitalize since 2001.

Since its start in 2014, the Construction Ready program has placed over 400 people into full-time careers with more than 60 construction companies throughout metro Atlanta. Graduation and placement rates consistently exceed 90% and more than 70% of graduates retain employment after 12 months on the job.

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