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Students view airport construction

By Greg Gelpi

Calvin Brewster feels at home in the dirt, he'd like it to be a part of his future.

Brewster was one of many students from several Clayton County high schools who toured the construction sites at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Thursday, part of a program to introduce students to the construction industry.

"I feel comfortable working with my hands. This is my first time this close (to the airport construction). I like what I see," said Brewster, a Mt. Zion High School sophomore.

From the construction of the 9,000-foot fifth runway to the construction of the Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal, the students got close to the construction.

Also on the trip was Sonny Braswell, who teaches construction at Mt. Zion, the only nationally certified construction program in the Clayton County school system.

"There is a lot of good opportunities for students in the construction area," Braswell said.

The program is broken into four areas: carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical, he said. Along with the classroom and lab instruction, the program helps match students with apprenticeships and internships.

Braswell said one of his graduates returned recently and was amazed by the amount of money he had earned in only his first five months in graduation.

But training is important and that is part of what was relayed to the students Thursday.

Ken Dalton, who is working at the construction site, said only about 60 or 70 people will be hired from about 7,000 interviews.

"Qualified (workers) are very hard to get," Dalton said. "If you don't possess any skills it's really tough."

Willie Wilson, a senior at Mt. Zion, said he is still undecided about his future.

"Depending on how things go today, it will let me know if I want to continue on in construction or go to college," Wilson said. "So far, I'm leaning towards construction."

The students gasped at and were excited by the construction vehicles, which overshadowed the school buses, but the field trip was more than a fun time out of class.

"This is all fun and games here, but the idea behind the organization is to hire these kids," Jeff Duncan, the cochairman of the Georgia Utility Contractors Association Education Committee, said. The GUCA helped sponsor the event.

"A majority of our companies are hiring," Duncan said. "They need people. We need to show them that the utility industry isn't just about digging ditches."

The visit provided a glimpse into what the students could do with the skills they are learning in class, he said. One contractor in GUCA didn't go to college, but now is part owner in the company.

"The average age of these workers is 45 years old, and there is no one to replace them," Duncan said. "We're trying to reach some of these kids that don't have a clue what they're going to do."