In March 2015, Brandon Walker’s new employer, McKenney’s, Inc., sent him to represent the heating and air conditioning company at the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) CareerExpo.
The massive two-day gathering is designed to introduce high school and college students to construction industry careers, and Walker was happy to answer questions and talk about his recent entry into the business.
“I’m trying to give the kids a positive outlook and tell them about what I do, and try to get them to go on the right track, because this is a good field to go into,” Walker said during the show.
That Walker himself is on the right track is a testament to Westside Works. The 29-year-old was out of work after losing a job detailing cars at an Atlanta-area dealership. He had two daughters – a 5-year-old and a newborn – to support, and he needed to catch a break.
In little more than a year, Westside Works has provided such a break for Walker and dozens of other Atlantans facing challenging circumstances. Walker heard about the program, applied and got accepted, and has made the most of the opportunity. He graduated in September 2014 and went to work with McKenney’s as a helper, the company’s designation for first-year employees.
“It changed my life,” Walker says of Westside Works. “I was getting in trouble, I was in and out of jail … I was on the wrong track. It’s a blessing, because it’s like this came out of nowhere. I’m so glad Westside Works is giving back to our community like this.”
Walker started his new career in the McKenney’s sheet metal shop. He’s since graduated to field work, most recently shadowing a foreman at a metro Atlanta job site.
“Brandon did a great job in our sheet metal shop,” says Field Operations Supervisor David Tzimenatos. “Our shop foreman stated that Brandon had a great attitude and was willing to tackle any task. He has gotten several comments about his positive attitude.”
After another year with McKenney’s, Walker will enter a four-year apprenticeship school – at no cost to him, as it’s funded by union members and signatory contractors – and learn “everything about the sheet metal industry, from layout and fabrications to field installation,” says Donnie Woodham, Vice President of Field Operations.
Woodham praises Westside Works for its intensive four-week training regimen. He says it gives young employees such as Walker a head start when they’re hired by his company.
“The core curriculum that they teach, with the construction skills and safety and blueprint reading and things like that, it’s the kind of curriculum that can really apply to any trade,” Woodham says. “So whenever we hire somebody out of Westside Works, it’s not like hiring somebody who has no idea about construction work; they already have developed some basic skills on being safe, operating hand tools, operating power tools, climbing ladders property and things like that, and it means a lot. They get a better start than some when they enter the industry.”
Now that’s he gotten that start, and now that he’s on the right track, Walker doesn’t plan to stray.
“I looked at it like this” he says. “I’m bettering myself. This is for me and my kids. I have eight certifications and I have a great job. They gave me an opportunity and I took advantage of it. I’m thankful every day for it.”