Bona Fide

Industry Credentials Opened Doors to a Revitalized Construction Career for Chris Smith

By Allen Allnoch

If an aspiring construction worker had any doubt about the value of credentials, a look at Christavious Smith should convince them otherwise.

Christavious, or Chris, is a graduate of Construction Ready at TCWFI (The Center for Working Families), a partnership that serves residents south of I-20. The industry-recognized credentials he earned immediately led to a job with Diversified Utility Services following months of struggling to make it by himself as a small business owner.

“You have to be licensed and bonded and certified in certain areas, and I just wasn’t getting any work without those things,” says Chris, who in early 2016 had taken over a concrete business from his aging stepfather. “Construction Ready really helps. Once I graduated, I walked straight through the door with all my certifications, and I’ve been here ever since.”

That was in fall 2016. Chris saw a flier promoting the program and signed up, then a friend told him about an opening with Diversified. “I went ahead and put in an application and told them I was going through this program, and they said, ‘When you graduate, just come on in.’ When I graduated, I went to see them and got hired the same day.”

Chris had years of experience in concrete from working with his stepfather. But it was those credentials that made all the difference, and his education is ongoing – after beginning with Diversified’s concrete operation, he’s now working on gas lines, and has taken a course in welding.

“I wanted to try something new,” he says. “It’s a big opportunity and I’m enjoying it. It’s very interesting work. You learn something new every day. You’re never doing the same thing.”

In addition to the credentials, Chris appreciates the teamwork skills he learned in the four-week Construction Ready curriculum.

“I made a lot of friends,” he recalls. “I learned how to trust and believe in others, and trust in myself. It made me realize I can push forward and stop being scared to get out there and take chances. It gave me a lot of hope.

“Now,” he continues, “some of the guys on the job remind me of some of the guys I met in class. Everybody watches out for each other. That’s how we were in class. There’s one guy out here who reminds me of my teacher, Johnny Hughes. He wants you to do right, so he gets on you and treats you like you’re his son, and I love that about him.”

Chris lives in the Mechanicsville area and has four children – two sons, ages 21 and 10; and twin 12-year-old daughters. With a steady job to help support them, he’s loving life and looking forward to his future with the company. And he’s a vocal advocate for the program that revived his construction career.

“I’ve been telling my company about it, so they can start getting more involved with it,” he says. “It’s a good opportunity. I tell people about my background, how hard it was for me to get a job, and then, when I went through the program, it was like all the doors just opened up.  I got a second chance. Everybody deserves a second chance.”

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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