Building a Career
Students learn about another post high school option
As a boy, Mike Sears dreamed of being a construction worker.
“I knew I wanted to be in the construction business when I was 10 years old,” related the Reynolds High School alumnus. “I loved putting things together and taking things apart. I couldn’t wait to get into wood shop in the seventh grade.”
Though Sears, the construction manager for Windsor Commercial, says he was passionate about his path and the direction he wanted his career to take, he says not everyone was supportive of his dream.
“In the 10th grade, I wanted to go into carpentry,” he related. “My guidance counselor told me I was too smart.”
He disagreed, entering the construction industry in 1978. It is a choice the father of one says he has never regretted.
“I am a blessed man,” declared Sears, who helped to construct his church, Hope Presbyterian, last year. “I get to do what I love to do.”
Today’s students face many of the same prejudices that skilled workers grappled with more than three decades ago, said Sears, chair of the Winston-Salem Chamber’s Construction Council. Through efforts like the Construction Career Days that were held April 9 and 10 at the Winston-Salem Entertainment Sports Complex, Sears and his partners are working to ensure that high school students in Forsyth County and the surrounding area have the support that they need if they desire to enter the construction business.
“We’re trying to get the message out that skilled labor is not a second class career,” he said. “…The opportunities are going to be here. Anybody that’s got skilled labor training, they’re going to have a job and they’re going to be able to make good money as well.”
The Council collaborates with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Forsyth Technical Community College, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Goodwill Industries and a handful of construction companies to put on the biennial fair, which was expected to attract 1,500 students this year. Dr. Susan Phelps, dean of Educational Partnerships at Forsyth Tech and a Construction Council member, said the demand for skilled labor training is growing.
“People are finding out if you have the skills, the jobs are out there,” she remarked.
Dwight Cornelison, program coordinator for the community college’s Air Conditioning/Heating and Refrigeration Technology Department, said construction remains one of the few fields where you don’t have to have a four-year college degree to make a good living.
“You’ve got an opportunity to make really good money,” said Cornelison, who operated his own company, Cornelison Heating and Cooling, Inc., for 15 years prior to coming to Forsyth Tech. “It’s hard work involved, but the rewards are great.”
City native Shelly King, is only in his third semester at Forsyth Tech, but he’s been working in the industry for over two decades. He and a handful of other students showed off their knowledge through a live demonstration: the construction of two storage buildings for a local church. King, who plans to get his general contractor’s license and go into business for himself someday, said he was happy to participate in the fair.
“It’s just to give an idea, even to the students that if you’re interested in a field, come try it,” said the father of four. “This is not easy work, but I love doing it. It’s hands-on.”
Justin Daniels, a freshman at Atkins Academic and Technology High School and aspiring Naval seaman, was among the student attendees.
“I just felt like this would probably give me a little insight on other careers in the world. Just in case I decide the
Navy isn’t right for me, it’ll give me a clear vision on what I want to do,” he said. “…I know there are a couple of jobs in the Navy that would require me to use machinery, so this is good training and good insight so I can get a better viewpoint of what I can and cannot do.”
Sign Erector Heather Joyce spent 15 years in retail management in Virginia before moving to North Carolina and taking her current job with the N.C. Department of Transportation. She said she felt it was important to represent the women in the construction field at the fair.
“To me, it’s a great thing to get more women in a good (work) atmosphere,” she commented. “…I think that’s one reason why I wanted to come, to show the girls that women can do this too.”