When Holder Construction employees go to work at a project the company is developing in Dunwoody, they can be sure Keenan Conigland is watching out for them.
Conigland works in safety and risk management for Holder, a role that encompasses everything from giving orientations to new employees, to ensuring safety equipment is used properly, to monitoring site conditions.
“There’s a lot to watch out for,” Conigland observes. “I’m sure the guys see me as being a safety cop sometimes, but I try to be a resource. It helps to have a calm demeanor and try to give constructive advice instead of browbeating folks.”
Conigland is relatively new to the job – he came to Holder after graduating with Westside Works’ Construction Group No. 1 in July 2014 – but he has quickly adapted to his role. Despite his contention that “I’m probably not the most beloved guy on site,” his soft-spoken and thoughtful manner helps him build relationships and employ a degree of diplomacy that mitigates the “safety cop” perception.
Conigland took an unlikely route to a construction career, with previous jobs in finance, public relations and public affairs. Originally from Baltimore, he moved to Atlanta 25 years ago and has worked for the Federal Reserve Bank and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
But “life took its twists and turns,” he says, and he found himself unemployed after the recession. Despite no prior construction experience, he decided to give the industry a shot when he learned about Westside Works.
“It’s totally different from what I’ve done, but it’s helping to broaden me and enlarge me,” Conigland says. “It’s even made me better at some things outside of work, like being able to tackle some things differently around the house and around the yard. I’ve learned some things I didn’t know before, and I’ve met some great guys out here and made some new friendships.”
A natural leader, and clearly no stranger to hard work, Conigland was a cheerleader to his fellow classmates while in training at Westside Works.
“I told the guys that we just had to do what we were supposed to do and get through the program, and the jobs would be there. I think all but one from my class are still working in the construction industry, so I can see where it’s changing people’s lives and helping them to move forward.”
Conigland is certainly moving forward again. He has a new skill set and a new career – “and I’d say also some new energy,” he adds – and he’s grateful to Westside Works for the opportunity it afforded him.
“Considering that they give you some initial exposure to the construction industry, give you an idea of what you can expect on a construction site, provide you with a support base and give you the opportunity to get employment when you come out of the program, I don’t think you can ask for anything more,” he says. “I think the program can only grow from here.”