Claudja Rodnez Finds Career Satisfaction, Financial Security as an Electrical Apprentice
Sometimes the college route just doesn’t work out. For Claudja Rodnez, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and once had designs on a career as a lawyer, the path to success turned out to run right through CEFGA’s Construction Ready program instead. Today she’s working as an electrical apprentice and earning more income than she did in any previous job.
As a teenager, Claudja moved with her mother and two siblings from her native New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she graduated from high school and earned her college degree. But as she eyed law school and researched careers, the late-2000s recession was taking hold and she recoiled at the idea of going into debt from student loans, with no guarantee of a job.
Instead, she followed her mother’s footsteps into the field of nursing, first earning a CNA license, then entering nursing school. In 2010 the family relocated to Atlanta and Claudja attended classes in Athens as part of a Medical College of Georgia satellite program. But the commute, plus the demand of working part-time jobs to fund her education, proved too much, and she had to drop out.
Claudja continued working as a CNA, and supplemented her income by driving for Uber and Lyft. But that grind began to wear her down, too.
“The money just wasn’t enough,” she says. “It was barely minimum wage when I counted everything. The amount of time I put in didn’t equate to a livable wage. I was really beginning to feel stuck.”
One day an email caught her eye. A promo for a new Construction Ready program for south Atlanta residents was included in a community newsletter she received. “I saw that you could make between $12 and $15 an hour doing a job in construction, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s more than I’ve ever made at any of my other jobs.’”
When she discussed the opportunity with her family – she still lived with her mother and two younger siblings – they were skeptical.
As Claudja recalls: “They said, ‘It’s a male-dominated industry. What about your college degree? We can support you while you keep looking.’ But I was tired of kind of leaning on my family financially. As you get older, the more independent you want to be. It didn’t feel good to have to depend on my family for gas, for food – things you should be able to buy yourself. So, despite what they were telling me, I said, ‘Let me just give this a try.’ It can’t be any worse than what I’m doing now.”
Claudja graduated with the first class from Construction Ready at Aerotropolis, which serves residents of the neighborhoods around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. She was hired initially by the Circle Group, a drywall and ceiling company, but she was also interested in an electrical career, so she applied for an apprenticeship program through Local Union 613 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Work on her first job site ended in early 2018, but by then she had all of her IBEW testing and paperwork in order, and was hired by Atlanta’s Uptime Electric Co. She’s since moved on to another electrical contractor, Allison-Smith Company, and continues her IBEW apprentice training.
Claudja thinks she was drawn to the field of electrical work by an affinity for light. Considering how thoughtful and well-spoken – one might say bright– she is, her choice seems fitting.
“I think light affects the way you feel emotionally – like the more light you have in your life, the more positive and happy you’ll feel,” she says. “So to be able to control the lighting that’s in someone’s living space, to be able to change the ambience, I just think it’s cool.”
Looking back on her decision to pursue a construction career, Claudja says, “I’m really happy I did it. This is the first time in my life that I am supporting myself financially, with no help. It’s a good feeling.”
And now her family is on board as well.
“They are so proud of me,” she adds. “This is the first time they’ve seen me getting up early, and don’t have to tell me, ‘Come on Claudja, you have to get up and go to work.’ They don’t have to do that anymore; I just get up and go. It’s kind of amazing, the change I’ve made.”
UPDATE – Spring 2019
Claudja has thrived as she continues her training as an electrical apprentice. Through spring of 2019, she was one year into the five-year program and had achieved the highest GPA in her DC Theory class.
She also continued her education on Saturdays by enrolling in CEFGA’s Construction Ready PLUS curriculum, sponsored by the Home Depot Foundation. That program combines intensive classroom lessons with hands-on applications, such as the storage shed that Claudja’s class built at a metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Club.
“When they told us what we’d be doing, I was like, ‘Can we actually do this? Is that possible?’” Claudja remembers with a laugh. “It was a little more in-depth than the hands-on project we had in Construction Ready. That was a picnic table. A storage shed requires you to build a foundation, build walls, a roof.
“But Mr. Kelly [Almond, Construction Ready PLUS instructor] had the blueprints, and we had taken his blueprints class, so we were familiar with the process. It was fun. I’m really happy that he was our teacher. You could tell that he really wanted us to learn and absorb everything he’s teaching. I felt really lucky to be in his class.”
Claudja says one of the most impactful Construction Ready PLUS exercises was an assignment in goal setting.
“We learned about buckling down and figuring out what we want from our careers in construction,” she says “It really forced me to sit down and think about what I want out of my career. Not just get up and go to work every day, but what do I want to be doing two years from now, what do I want five or ten years from now? So I’m actually writing down where I want to be long-term, possibly even starting my own business later on down the line.”
Watch as Claudja talks more about how Construction Ready PLUS inspired her to think about long-term career development and goals. Follow us on our YouTube channel to hear from additional Construction Ready graduates.