When John Dolsak climbed onto a track hoe at the 2014 CEFGA CareerExpo, he had no idea he was about to lay the groundwork for a new career.
Dolsak, a senior at Fayetteville’s Whitewater High School at the time, was attending his first CEFGA CareerExpo. He had come as part of an automotive service team for the concurrent SkillsUSA competition, and was merely testdriving the excavator, one of several machines students are invited to check out in a demo area outside the Georgia International Convention Center.
But watching from nearby was Ed Shipley, a vice president for Ronny D. Jones Enterprises (RDJE). Shipley was helping supervise the demo operation and, like a big league scout at a high school baseball game, he knew talent when he saw it.
“It was very obvious in the first minute or so that John had run a tractor before and knew what he was doing,” Shipley recalls. “I yelled over to the guy who was supervising that area and said, ‘When he gets off, send him to talk to me.”
The two chatted and Dolsak left with Shipley’s business card and an invitation to work for Newnan-based RDJE, a full-service construction company, when he finished high school. Dolsak kept in touch and was hired by RDJE in May 2014.
The CareerExpo is designed for such networking opportunities. The most recent event, in March 2015, gave more than 5,000 high school and college-age students access to some 1,200 industry personnel, plus a first-hand look at every aspect of the construction business.
For Dolsak, it was “an opportunity to meet and talk to somebody who was in the industry. If I hadn’t met Ed there, I probably wouldn’t be in a job like this.”
Although Dolsak grew up around construction – his father and grandfather had a Florida-based marine construction business that specialized in building docks – he focused on automotive work at Whitewater. He ran the school’s auto shop and did everything from oil changes to transmission rebuilds to engine swaps.
He was good at it, but he had a nagging sense that automotive wasn’t exactly his career calling. “I like doing it on my own,” Dolsak says, “but I wouldn’t want to do it as a full-time job.”
Shipley was correct in recognizing Dolsak’s experience on a trackhoe. He had spent “20 hours or so” running one on a family farm in North Carolina. Dolsak recalls times from his boyhood when “I would see equipment on the side of the road and it always interested me.”
Now 20, Dolsak spends most of his time for RDJE running a wheel loader. His supervisors say his natural ability is nicely complemented by a willingness to learn and a strong work ethic.
“He had a good mechanical background, but he didn’t know a lot about what we were doing when first came to work,” foreman Tim Tittle recalls. “He watched and he learned how to run the loader real fast. It’s hard to find young people who learn and work as hard as John does.”
Shipley agrees, adding that Dolsak is “not afraid to work.”
“I’ve learned a lot from people in the company,” says Dolsak, who has worked on numerous jobs in the metro Atlanta area and as far away as Columbus. “I learned a lot from a crew I worked with in Griffin over the summer, doing 12-inch waterline and moving road. I got to dig a lot on that job.”
Watching Dolsak at the controls of the loader, it’s clear he’s confident and in his element. But he’s not arrogant, and he advises prospective young laborers to adopt a similar attitude if they hope to succeed in the business.
“I like operating,” he says. “I was interested in it and I would watch other people do it and just to try to picture how I would do it. But you can’t just jump in and do that right away. A lot of people say they want to be an operator, but it takes time. The main thing is show up to work and don’t come in thinking you know everything.”
It does help, however, to know people – people like Ed Shipley, for example. As Dolsak learned at the CEFGA CareerExpo, trackhoe skills can open a door, but networking can lead to a full-time spot in the driver’s seat.