Emboldened by Encouraging Mentors, Andrew Lamb Is Making the Most of a Sure-Fire Career Opportunity
Every winter, a familiar scene plays out in high school auditoriums, libraries and cafeterias around the country. A teenaged football player, surrounded by family, friends and coaches, dons the logoed cap of a university and signs a letter stating his intent to attend that school the following fall.
Similarly, every spring the National Football League holds its amateur draft, a spectacle replete with young men gleefully displaying new team jerseys and commentators discussing seven-figure salaries and Super Bowl rings.
Rarely does one hear about a young person entering a blue-collar industry – and certainly not with the sort of fanfare so many athletes receive for their prowess. Jeremy Whitaker decided it was time to change that perception, at least for students at Kennesaw Mountain High School, where he works as Construction Trades Education Teacher.
On May 9, 2018, Whitaker hosted the school’s first Career Signing Day, which featured 12 seniors committing to jobs with seven different companies. An audience of more than 100 included Cobb County School Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and other district officials, a Georgia state senator and a crew from Georgia Public Television (see GPTV’s report on the event right here).
“I was just going to try the Signing Day with one student as my guinea pig, and have it take place in a small conference room at the school,” recalls Whitaker, Cobb County’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year in Career Tech. “But as word got out about the idea, more students and industry partners jumped on board. My hope is that this event will grow more and more every year, not to give me recognition or notoriety, but to spotlight and highlight the incredible achievements and mature career choices made by some remarkable high school seniors who are setting themselves up for career success.”
One of those recent graduates, Andrew Lamb, indeed is well on his way to a successful career in construction. Lamb signed with Anning-Johnson Company that day, went to work as an apprentice in June, and has already contributed to several major projects around metro Atlanta.
“It was pretty cool,” Andrew says of the Signing Day event. “It was like the NFL draft meets the construction world. It was really an honor.”
Many of Whitaker’s students complete an extensive, multi-semester Construction Pathway curriculum he designed. That curriculum is right in line with CEFGA’s K12 Pipeline, which seeks to elevate and expand skilled trade programs statewide in Georgia public school systems.
In Andrew’s case, he concentrated on ROTC until midway through his senior year, then joined Whitaker’s program. His family has a background in construction, so it was a familiar environment for him. “Pretty much all my life, I’ve been around woodworking, using my hands, so once I took Mr. Whitaker’s class, I thought it would be natural for me to continue toward a construction career,” he says.
Besides encouraging and shaping young minds in the classroom, Whitaker is adept at building relationships in the industry. He was volunteering at the CEFGA-hosted CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships when he met Edwin Parra, Operations Administrator for Anning-Johnson’s Atlanta office. Parra committed A-J’s help with a classroom/restaurant space that was being developed for KMHS’s culinary arts program. Andrew, in turn, met Parra while working on the project.
Months later, Whitaker visited Andrew on an A-J job site and was proud to see a key lesson he shared had taken hold.
“Andrew will continue to succeed because he has an amazing work ethic, a positive attitude, a kind and servant heart, and most importantly a teachable spirit,” Whitaker says. “One of the things I taught him while he was here at KMHS was to take notes while his employer is telling him what to do, because that shows your employer that you value what they are saying, and you will make sure you don’t forget any of the details of their instructions.
“This summer when I went to visit Andrew, I watched as his foreman was giving him instructions on what to do. I saw Andrew reach into his pocket and grab a small note pad and pencil, and he wrote down everything his foreman told him. Needless to say, I was so pleased to see him walk out just a small part of his training while here at KMHS.”
Andrew began work with A-J as a laborer, mostly doing cleanup on an NCR building project. He then moved on to a renovation job at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, where he began to gain experience in framing, cutting and hanging sheetrock, and installing ceiling tiles.
“I’ll never forget when I framed and hung my first wall,” Andrew says. “I saw it go from nothing to wall and sheetrock, and it was all correct without having to go back and do anything over.”
Andrew has worked with the same field foreman, Colton Sansing, since joining the company. Parra says Sansing has asked for Andrew every time he’s moved on to a new project.
“You kind of see a pattern with foremen, where when they see potential in someone, they’ll try to keep that person with them from job to job and invest in them,” Parra says. “Andrew and Colton are a perfect example of that. I think that says a lot about what Andrew’s brought to the table – because Colton sees Andrew doing his part, he’s more than willing to help develop him.”
Sansing agrees, saying he’s happy to have a reliable apprentice who is never late to work and always brings a positive attitude. “With the younger generation, I’d say half the battle is just showing up on time and having a good attitude,” he says. “Andrew has shown he’s got both of those things down really well. So to see that makes you excited for his future.”
Talk to Andrew and his determination to succeed quickly becomes apparent. No matter what task he’s been assigned – even when it was entry-level cleanup work – he’s been fully committed to it.
“I want [A-J] to see that I’m a good, hard worker,” he says. “You have to learn how to clean the mess before you can make the mess. That’s what I tried to do – I had to master the broom first and prove that I could move up. It’s been fun. I’m a guy who likes to move – I don’t like sitting down for long periods of time, so I enjoy every bit of this job.”
Asked if he has set any specific career goal’s, Andrew doesn’t hesitate: “I want to be in the construction manager’s seat one day,” he says.
Parra affirms that kind of can-do attitude, adding that Andrew is “off to a great start. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, I think he’ll get to where he wants to go.”
Whitaker, meanwhile, will continue to celebrate his students and champion the skilled trades as a can’t-miss career path.
“I created the Career Signing Day because I wanted to honor my students who have chosen a career path right out of high school,” he says. “I was tired of seeing only students who get a football scholarship or an academic scholarship honored at the end of their high school career. Those students go to college with the chance of earning a degree, the chance of playing football, the chance of getting a job with that degree and the chance of going on to play professional sports. Our school systems make a big deal out of chance; to me that overlooks the real success stories.”
VIDEO: Andrew discusses the honor of taking part in his school’s Career Signing Day and working for Anning-Johnson Company.