For many high school graduates, college or technical school isn’t the default career path. Some, such as Corey Grant, are eager to get right to work.
Grant, a 2015 graduate of Allatoona High School in Acworth, has been employed as an entry-level laborer with Atlanta’s Holder Construction Company since June.
In that time, he says, “I’ve done everything from push a broom to use an 80-pound jackhammer to tear up concrete. It just depends on the day.”
Grant has, in a sense, spent much of his life preparing for his new career. He grew up around the business, with his parents, a brother, an uncle and an aunt all working for Inglett & Stubbs Electrical Contractors.
He also gained plenty of hands-on experience at Allatoona, where he took three years of construction classes and built everything from sheds to stairs to podiums.
He showed a knack for carpentry, finishing second and third in the 2013 and2014 state SkillsUSA competitions hosted by the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA). He returned to SkillsUSA his senior year and took first in carpentry, earning him a trip to the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky, where he finished 13th.
With graduation approaching, Grant knew he wanted to pursue a construction career, and he was familiar with Holder through his family connections in the Atlanta-area construction community. When he approached the company for an interview, management was happy to meet with him.
“Corey is a great example of somebody who has strong aptitude and intelligence, but just didn’t feel like college or technical school was the next step for him,” says Ryan Byars, a senior project manager for Holder.
Byars says Holder makes a priority of developing relationships and investing in young people like Grant. “As an industry, we’ve struggled with getting young people into the trades and into the workforce, so working with CEFGA and reaching out across the state has become a really big focus for our company.”
Grant’s supervisor, Cory English, also started as an hourly associate and has moved up to his current role of running job sites himself. Byars says, “That’s a nice connection, for [English] to have Corey under his wing and develop him and mold him, so he can hopefully have a long-term career with Holder.”
Indeed, Grant aspires to a leadership role one day, a goal that has roots in his high school construction program.
“I always had a lot of responsibility there,” he recalls, “trying to lead others and help them learn. That was probably the biggest way it helped me [prepare for a career].
“I like this company because it’s performance-based,” he continues. “I want to try to move up and become a superintendent as soon as possible, and I feel like this would be the best place to do that.”
Meanwhile he’ll continue his on-the-job education. Most recently he worked on a residential add-on project in Buckhead. Next he’ll move on to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the future Atlanta Falcons home being built by a partnership that includes Holder Construction.
Grant admittedly has made a few rookie mistakes – “fortunately nothing that hasn’t been fixable,” he says with a laugh – and he acknowledges occasionally being picked on as the youngest crew member.
But he’s determined to succeed and he recognizes that hard work will help him do so. “Don’t be lazy” – that’s Grant’s advice for a young person eyeing a construction career. “Be ready to work your tail off. You have to be diligent and careful and respectful of authority – definitely don’t try to come in and tell people what to do.”
Grant’s advice echoes what Byars preaches as an advocate for workforce development. “Construction is hard work,” Byars says. “It’s not sitting at a desk – it’s physically demanding, and mentally demanding as well.
“The high school construction programs that have NCCER curriculum, which gives students the tools to adapt to what the construction industry requires, is very important for us. The employability skills that come from the Skills USA competitions are also important. Carpentry, for example, is a very intense competition and requires practice and learning about mental strength and overcoming fatigue.
“All of those things apply directly to construction. We are an industry that lives and dies by great trades and craftsmen, so workforce development is one of the biggest focuses that Holder has right now as a company.”
Grant’s spot on the Holder payroll is evidence that such an approach pays off. And for Grant, the payoff comes in seeing the results of a hands-on job.
“I like to be able to point at a building and say, ‘Hey, I had a hand in building that.’ That will be there for many years,” he says. “I think that’s cool.”