Carpenter Miles Terry Has Capitalized on the Guidance of Mentors and Learning Opportunities at Every Turn
When Miles Terry graduated from Macon’s Westside High School in May 2019, he wasted no time beginning a full-time career. Just three days after receiving his diploma, Miles reported to work as a carpenter with the Bibb County School District. The opportunity was simply too good to pass up: It would allow him to do what he is passionate about – work creatively with his hands – as well as learn from co-workers with decades of experience and earn a salary well above the typical entry-level job for employees his age.
“It is very rare to find a young man straight out of high school who is ready and mature enough to work in a professional environment,” says Eddie Montgomery, Bibb County Schools’ long-time Director of Maintenance Operations. “What impressed me most about Miles was his willingness to learn. He is a quick learner, a good listener, very well-mannered, and he gets along with everyone in our department. He is working out very well.”
Montgomery is one of many adults who have invested in Miles’ development since he and his family moved to Macon at the end of his junior year. Raising four boys on her own, Miles’ mother, Shelia, relocated from the Chicago area for a better job and change of scenery. The move quickly helped launch Miles’ journey toward a construction career.
First, a counselor at Westside, Cathy Denson, suggested he consider dual enrollment at William S. Hutchings College and Career Academy for his senior year. A charter program for Bibb County Schools, Hutchings provides high-interest career pathways and stackable industry credentials to equip students for in-demand jobs or further education.
The Construction Pathway caught Miles’ eye when he visited the school and met with the program’s instructor, James Miller.
“Growing up, I was always outside, always trying to figure out how things worked,” Miles recalls. “I knew I wanted to do something with my hands in whatever career I chose. I really liked the Construction Pathway and felt like it was somewhere I could make my mark.”
Hutchings proved a perfect fit, with Miles excelling academically, honing his hands-on skills and getting involved in SkillsUSA competitions. He happily recalls one particular assignment, a charge to build a display cabinet for the school’s cosmetology lab.
“Mr. Miller came to me and said to pick somebody I would work well with and to come up with a design,” he says. “The satisfaction was tremendous, because I got to see something come out of nothing, and it was my design, and I got to collaborate with a fellow classmate. We were able to learn from each other, and Mr. Miller showed us a lot of techniques about how to build those shelves. It was fun learning new things, and it was great seeing it displayed at Hutchings.”
Building Hands-On Experience
With the help of Vonnie Angelo, Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator and Work Based Learning (WBL) Supervisor at Hutchings, Miles landed a part-time job that enabled him to gain more hands-on experience. After speaking to Miles’ class at a lunch-and-learn gathering, Angelo was impressed with his engagement and attitude, and introduced him to Andrew Eck, owner of Georgia Artisan.
Eck, whose Macon-based company creates custom, made-to-order furniture from reclaimed wood, hired Miles at minimum wage in January 2019. Within two months Miles had earned a raise to $9 an hour.
“Originally I was just a helper around the shop, but over time I got more responsibility and learned how to build different things,” he remembers. “It taught me a lot.”
Angelo continued to encourage Miles as the schoolyear progressed, getting to know his dedicated mother in the process. “When we set him up with Georgia Artisan, I had to have parent paperwork, so his mom came in,” Angelo recalls. “I thought, ‘Oh, now I know why he’s so phenomenal. She and I cried in the parking lot more than once. It was all happy tears. I am just so proud of him.”
“Another reason I’m so motivated is because of my mother,” Miles adds. “She taught me things that can only be taught by a mom, but she also taught me things that are taught by a man. To be able to come out of high school and do what I’m doing, I made her proud very quickly.”
As winter turned into spring of his senior year, Miles and his teammates in the Hutchings SkillsUSA chapter prepared for the CEFGA-hosted SkillsUSA State Championships in Atlanta. Miles was part of the Chapter Display team, and he also competed in the Woodworking contest.
Always eager to learn, he sought out his woodworking competitors with questions about their craft. “I met a lot of students who were more advanced than I was,” he says. “I got to talk to different kids and ask how they built certain things. It was very cool to see students my age who were building complex carpentry projects.”
He may have been a novice woodworker, but Miles came to the rescue when his Chapter Display team’s centerpiece suffered a mishap on the trip to Atlanta. He explains:
“The way it’s built, the base is independent and you slide the rest on from the top, and there’s a motor that moves it. While it was being transported, the wing nuts were bent, so when we went to set it up, it wouldn’t line up correctly. I said to my teammates, ‘Let’s not give up. We came all this way, we’re not going to let a bent screw take us out of the competition.’ I was able to bend them back so we could set up our display. We didn’t win, but the experience was a lot of fun.”
An Offer Too Good to Refuse
Like Angelo, Eddie Montgomery is eager to invest in helping young people grow and be successful. He began work with Bibb County School as a young man himself, some 46 years ago. As the 2018-19 schoolyear began drawing to a close, he approached Angelo to identify students who might be interested in a summer job in his maintenance department.
Then he announced a full-time position had become available. Angelo recommended Miles for the job. Miles interviewed with Montgomery and the maintenance team, made a favorable impression and secured an offer. That meant he would have to leave Georgia Artisan, a process he was careful to negotiate in a professional manner.
“I turned in my two weeks notice, and I thanked Andrew for the opportunity and all the experience that he gave me,” Miles says. Eck liked Miles so much he made a counter-offer to try to keep him, but ultimately he couldn’t compete with the school district’s offer.
“Miles had a job making $32,000 a year, with benefits, the day he graduated,” Angelo says. “That’s a no-brainer. If more kids could understand the opportunities that are out there. Not every kid is made to go to college.”
With his decision made, Miles participated in a career signing day Hutchings hosted for soon-to-be graduates ready to enter the workforce.
“Mr. Eddie showed up the next day with his whole crew, and we signed our letters of intent,” Miles says. “It was a big deal – it was on the news.”
Under Montgomery’s tutelage, Miles is in an ideal position to continue his professional development. “Mr. Eddie is a great boss,” says Angelo. “He will mentor Miles and make sure that the others mentor him, because that’s just the kind of man that he is.”
Miles’ official job title is Carpenter 1, a role in which he and a partner cover a territory of 12 Bibb County schools. Every day, he says, brings something different, from changing ceiling tiles to hanging pictures to more complex carpentry assignments, and even welding jobs.
“I like the variety,” he says. “It also allows me to learn a lot of new things, like welding. I’ve had to learn how to be creative with problem solving. Sometimes we have to brainstorm and come up with an idea on the spot to solve a problem.
“I’m the youngest on the maintenance team,” he adds, “So all of the other guys’ experience is channeled into me. I have a lot to learn, but I’m open to it.”
For many high school graduates, and even college graduates, it can take some time to figure out what they really want to do in life. But not Miles Terry – he’s found his lane and he’s moving full-speed ahead in it.
“Carpentry is my real passion,” Miles says. “And there’s always a need for carpenters. Twenty years from now I’ll still have a job because I’ll know how to build something.”
VIDEO: Miles talks about his experiences at Macon’s Hutchings College and Career Academy, and the passion he has for his new career as a carpenter for Bibb County Schools. Follow us on our YouTube channel to hear from more successful young people with full-time construction careers.