Carpentry apprentice Ishmael Burden: ‘Luck is the point where preparation and opportunity merge’

Note: Ishmael Burden graduated from Construction Ready at Build Cobb’s Group 10 in June 2017 and, in December 2018, was part of the first class to CEFGA’s new Construction Ready PLUS program. An employee of Anning-Johnson Company, Ishmael shares lessons he’s learned on the path to success. You can also read about him and other Construction Ready graduates employed by Anning-Johnson at

Not too long ago, there was a time in my life when both preparation and opportunity were scarce. The prospect of my being able to gain access to them seeming prohibitively far from my grasp.

In the summer of 2017, however, luck finally graced my doorstep in the form of an opportunity to take part in a groundbreaking career development program. CEFGA’s Construction Ready curriculum allowed me to draw on mental preparedness and discipline – both prerequisites to success in the construction industry.

Thanks to the instruction and job search assistance I received, I was hired as a Carpentry Apprentice by one of the leading commercial drywall construction firms in the country, Anning-Johnson Company. Immediately I was able to put my training into practice.

My rise at Anning-Johnson has been described by some of my superiors as “stellar.” Six months after beginning Anning-Johnson’s Carpentry Apprentice Training Program, I was awarded a full one-dollar increase in my hourly pay. Soon after, because many people recognized my appreciation for workplace safety and knowledge of OSHA guidelines, I was invited to serve on the Safety Committee of the Atlanta District, a policy-making board that brings together some of the company’s highest-ranking officers with field employees to decide on ways to improve and enforce safety practices. I also was appointed to serve as a Site Safety Manager on one of the largest construction projects in the Atlanta area.

I was ecstatic about my new position, and eager to show that I was the best person for the job. However, shortly following my promotion, I began to realize that more opportunities were likely to come in the near future. Would I be sufficiently prepared to take advantage of future opportunities to further ascend the corporate ladder? Increasingly there were talks of my becoming a Carpentry Foreman very soon. Being considered for a foreman position presented the opportunity to become one of the highest-paid professionals in the industry, as well as gain the expertise necessary to run my own projects on the side and perhaps even start my own business one day.

I understood that most foremen have a certain degree of experience and education. I knew that I was still lacking in experience, being that I had only been in the business for a year. In order for me to continue to rise at the dizzying pace I was on at the time, I would have to compensate for my lack of experience with more education. I asked my mentors questions such as, “What does it take to be a great foreman?” and “What exactly does a foreman do?”

Invariably, the responses I received mentioned leadership, blueprint reading and planning skills. When I asked how to truly succeed financially, I was told to save hard, invest wisely, avoid common financial pitfalls suffered by most people, and, if possible, seek further training in that area. In my second Safety Committee meeting, I was informed that all committee members were required to have the OSHA 30 construction safety certification. At the time I had only the OSHA 10.

I was determined to meet the qualifications necessary to achieve my dreams, but was uncertain exactly how I would do it. Then one day luck appeared in my favor once again in the form of a friendly email buried beneath all the spam and unwanted advertisements in my inbox. It was CEFGA’s Jamie Buck, informing me about a new program for Construction Ready graduates called Construction Ready Plus.

It was an opportunity for graduates to earn seven more credentials to help develop their careers even further. I was elated to learn that the list of credentials were the very credentials I needed to enhance my career prospects: OSHA 30, Blueprint Reading, Crew Leadership, Career Planning, Financial Management and more! The email also contained a list of questions whose answers determined whether I was fully prepared for this opportunity – questions such as, “Do you have a reliable form of transportation?”, “Are you currently employed?” and “Have you been employed by your company for at least six months?”

The answer to all the questions was “Yes!” Because I was prepared when that opportunity came, I was lucky enough to receive two raises within the 16-week duration of the post-graduate training program, and I received a year-end bonus, a privilege almost unheard-of for a first-year apprentice!

I am now fully prepared to receive the rich opportunities that are coming my way. It is very gratifying to see my hard work and perseverance being rewarded. Now my family, my community and many generations after me have a chance to be lucky as well. In fact, the more I work, achieve, give and receive, the more what I once viewed as “luck” begins to take on the shape of another word: Success.

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