Marshanda Ferrell’s Career Path Took a Significant Turn for the Better with the Help of Construction Ready at Westside Works
Story and photos by Allen Allnoch
The stretch of I-20 between Westside Atlanta and Conyers spans less than 30 miles. But for Marshanda Ferrell, it represents the path to a whole new life.
Marshanda, a graduate of Construction Ready at Westside Works Class 19, is an administrator at the Conyers branch of Road Safe Traffic Systems, one of the nation’s largest providers of traffic control and pavement marking services.
She had bounced around in low-paying jobs and been laid off from a temp service in late 2016 when she began to consider the Construction Ready Program at Westside Works. She knew about it from a brother who went through it, and though she was hesitant about a construction career, she had two young sons to care for and needed to do something soon.
She graduated in February 2017 and was hired by Road Safe as a flagger. Within five months, she had been promoted to her current position, in which her front-desk duties include billing, material sales and welcoming visitors.
“The Construction Ready Program at Westside Works gave me a second chance and a new career,” Marshanda says. “It’s like a whole new lifestyle, a complete lifestyle change,” she continues. “I never imagined being in this position. I imagined things being a little better, but it just seems like I’ve been blessed.”
She’s certainly paid her dues, especially in the initial months after her hiring. She didn’t have a car, but two of her supervisors graciously provided transportation. She also had to juggle daycare for her youngest son with the need to be on job sites at early hours.
“It was a challenge,” she recalls. “Working in the construction field is a totally different atmosphere. At first I was timid about it. I wasn’t used to being outside in the cold or the heat. I felt like I had to make myself tough, like one of the men.”
Road control meant going wherever the company sent her, from the heights of Lookout Mountain in northwest Georgia to the dusty farmland of the state’s southeast region.
“There are so many experiences I never would have gotten without this job,” she says. “I remember going to Dublin, how hot it was there, and the long hours, and the bond that formed between the employees doing that kind of work. You learn each other because you’re just there in the middle of nowhere.”
Within two months, Marshanda secured a car of her own. Branch supervisor Allan Minnig promoted her after recognizing her hard work and potential. “She picked things up really well and become very knowledgeable about the job,” he says. And she was able to relocate to Monroe, which both shortened her commute and provide a change of environment for her children.
“I was at a standstill before,” she remembers. “Dead-end job, making a little over minimum wage, still on food stamps, struggling to take care of myself and my children. … They had been struggling in school, especially my oldest son. There was some bullying and his grades were slipping, but now that we’ve moved, he’s picked up his grades and seems to have adjusted well.”
As with some of the job sites she’s worked, the road to Marshanda’s new career has been winding and sometimes bumpy. She’s happy she took the chance on pursuing it.
“The Construction Ready Program at Westside Works helped me by giving me the skills and the credentials to get back to work,” she says. “The teachers, the staff, the counselors, they were all great. I really enjoyed going to class. They made you want to be there and have the determination to finish and make them proud.”