CEFGA and Anning-Johnson: A Case Study in the Value of Investing in People

Anning-Johnson employees (left to right) Michael McCullough, Derrick Woods and Ishmael Burden illustrate how everyone wins when a company invests in workforce development.

Before he entered the construction industry, Michael McCullough drove a tow truck. And while he was helping other motorists get moving again, he felt like he was just spinning the wheels in his own life. He was discontent in his work and weary from making poor choices, some of which had earned him periodic jail stays since he was a teen.

Then he remembered something his mother had mentioned about a free program that trained men and women for construction work.

“I had a job, but it wasn’t like a career, and I just got tired of it,” Michael recalls. “That reminded me to try this Construction Ready program out. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I told myself I was going to have a good career where I feel like I can be there for a very long time and, you know, live the American dream – have a family, a house, kids.”

Michael graduated from Construction Ready at Build Cobb in November 2017, then went to work for Anning-Johnson Company, a frequent participant in the hiring fairs Construction Ready hosts at the conclusion of each four-week class. Within two years, he was in the final phase of a two-year carpentry apprenticeship program Anning-Johnson offers to select employees. And he definitely has a career, rather than merely a job.

“Getting that second chance was a blessing,” Michael says. “Edwin [Parra, A-J Operations Administrator] was talking about the company and what they do for their employees ,and I thought, ‘Man, I want to be part of this.’ I felt like somebody really cares about me and wants to groom me into having a real career. They tell you what to do, what not to do, and how to do it better. It’s a step-by-step career pathway.”

The willingness of both Construction Ready and Anning-Johnson to give Michael a chance is paying off for all parties involved. And he’s not the only Construction Ready graduate to find success with the company despite a misguided past. Several other apprentices came to A-J via Construction Ready after overcoming challenges as adolescents and young adults, and all are thriving.

CEFGA’s partnership with Anning-Johnson illustrates the redemptive value of investing in people – even, in some cases, those who as younger men and women made poor decisions. Parra explains:

“As an employer we can teach a lot of skills, but the right attitude is something that has to come from within,” says Parra, who oversees recruiting, hiring and training of field personnel in Atlanta, one of eight A-J locations nationwide. “It’s definitely up to the individual having the right attitude and state of mind, that’s what we look for in interviews. We look for people who are willing to take control of their own destiny.

A-J Operations Administrator Edwin Parra says his company looks for potential employees who have “the right attitude and state of mind” and “are willing to take control of their own destiny.”

“When you couple that kind of mentality with eager, open-minded employers and a program like Construction Ready that wants to help connect all the dots and put that individual in front of the right people, it’s a formula for success.”

If an A-J hire continues to show motivation and potential, they may be recommended for one of the company’s in-house training programs – commercial carpentry and drywall finishing. An apprentice will be paired with an experienced tradesman. Weekly evaluations assist the learning process. The employee also can opt for additional union training.

“We’ll take one of our top tradesman – say, a carpenter who may hang forty boards of sheetrock a day by himself – and we’ll tell him to slow down, not hang as much drywall, but teach another young man to hang drywall,” says Parra. “So we’ve cut his production and we’re losing on the front end, but what we’re gaining on the back makes up for the loss and then some.”

Ishmael Burden is another A-J hire who decided he wasn’t going to let past decisions ruin his life. One of those decisions – a youthful prank gone bad, resulting in an armed robbery charge – had landed him in prison for more than five years. But he made the most of the time, studying investment strategies, preparing for the GED and SAT exams, and growing stronger in his Christian faith.

Ishmael graduated from Construction Ready at Build Cobb, went through the carpenter apprentice program and now works in a lead safety role. “I can honestly say I’m happy to go to work,” he says, and he’s mindful of his potential to influence others.

“I want to inspire people to reach a higher economic class, a higher level of character, a higher level of emotional and social well-being, a higher level of sense of responsibility for themselves and for their community.”

Derrick Woods graduated from Anning-Johnson’s carpentry apprentice program in December 2019.

Derrick Woods, who graduated from A-J’s carpentry program in December 2019, has perhaps the most dramatic comeback story of the Construction Ready grads the company has hired. He served a 20-year prison sentence for a crime he committed at the age of 19, but came out a changed man, determined to find a good job and make the most of his future.

“It took me awhile, but I finally realized I could decide how my life is going to be,” says Derrick, whose youthful looks belie his age. “Once I decided I didn’t want to live that kind of lifestyle anymore, I made it my business when I woke up in the morning to put positive thoughts in my head, to do positive things, to be around positive people.”

When he attended Construction Ready at Westside Works, Derrick found a kindred spirit in Nicholas Holmes. The latter, who was named a CEFGA Construction Ready Graduate of the Year in 2019 and has been training to be an A-J foreman, had accompanied Parra to speak to Derrick’s class. His story had a familiar ring – years of prison and a decision to take charge of his life – and Derrick immediately “was logged in,” he recalls.

“After [Parra and Holmes] left, everybody in the class was like, ‘That’s you,’ because they knew my situation. They said, ‘You better go to work with A-J.’ They wanted to see me succeed, and that’s the difference between being in a negative crowd and in a positive crowd.

“I think a desire to succeed had always been in me, but I was going in the wrong direction,” Derrick continues. “Now I take that energy and put it into my training, put it into my job. When I learned about A-J’s training program, I thought, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to learn how to be better. Every time they open their door, I’m there, because I have this thing in me now to just go forward.”

Nicholas Holmes’ story inspired Derrick Woods as he was completing his own Construction Ready training and preparing for a new career in the industry.

While Woods, Holmes and others with challenging backgrounds have found success through Construction Ready, Parra says discouragement easily can set in if the right opportunities aren’t in place for a would-be employee.

“A lot of people come out of challenging situations like these guys did, and it’s very difficult for them to stay on the right path,” he says. “Regardless of how bad they want it, if doors keep getting continuously slammed in their face, that can be very discouraging. Six months or a year of that can easily sway someone back in the wrong direction, regardless of how bad they want a change.”

Conversely, when all the right ingredients are in place – motivated individual, proper training and willing employer – the results can be remarkable. Of more than 15 Construction Ready graduates A-J has hired, three are on track to become a foreman – a staggering success rate, Parra says.

“When employers start to realize the power they have by taking advantage of these resources [such as Construction Ready] and investing in these individuals, I think that’s when everybody wins,” he says. “When employers don’t have an open mind, then we’re losing, as a society. Without Construction Ready, without Anning-Johnson’s training program, these men may have had little to no chance at all to succeed. But today, they’re professionals, and I think each one of them has found a passion for what they do. And that translates to a much more productive, professional and loyal employee. So in the end, everybody wins.”

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RELATED STORY: CEFGA Honors Anning-Johnson as Craft Pro Champion

VIDEO: Michael, Derrick and Ishmael talk about the benefits of Construction Ready training and Anning-Johnson Company’s belief and investment in them as employees. Learn more about Construction Ready at constructionready.us, and hear from more Construction Ready graduates on our YouTube channel

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