Many youngsters dream of growing up to become professional athletes or entertainers. Joshua Willis was different – he always wanted to be an electrician.
“I wanted to do electrical work ever since I was 4 years old,” says Willis, who at 32 is already a 10-year veteran in the industry. “I used to like to play with wires. I would tear apart remote control cars, pull the wires out, strip them with the gap in my teeth, then try to rewire them in reverse.”
Joshua isn’t sure what sparked, if you will, his interest at such an early age – “I had no family history in electrical or construction,” he says – but he never abandoned it. A graduate of Elberton High School, Joshua completed the electrical construction and maintenance program at Atlanta Technical College. While there, he qualified for the 2011 SkillsUSA State Championships. He didn’t win, but one of his judges, Allison-Smith Company’s Matt Moore, was impressed with his work.
“He gave me a business card,” Joshua remembers, and that connection ultimately led to an apprenticeship with the company through IBEW Local 613. He was able to purchase a home by age 22, become a journeyman electrician at 24, and begin work as a supervisor at 25. He continued in that capacity until 2020; when work slowed down due to the Covid pandemic, he decided to try his hand as an independent contractor.
“I ran my own company during the peak of COVID and did very well,” Joshua told an audience of SkillsUSA competitors during a roundtable discussion at the 2023 SkillsUSA State Championships. “I did a lot of business, but I was working a ton of hours, and once [work for] Allison-Smith picked back up, they said they needed me back and I went … so I could get some time back with my family. I finished up a large Microsoft project [with Allison-Smith], then I went to HITT Contracting as an assistant superintendent, and now I’m in electrical estimating.”
Michael Mikko, a project manager Joshua under with when he was at Allison-Smith, points to Willis’ career as a great example of the opportunities SkillsUSA can open up.
“We always have someone [at SkillsUSA] judging to see what the students can do. We try to recruit from [those] students, and Joshua was one that we picked up,” Mikko says. “Just being able to get to that level and compete shows a lot. You don’t have to win to succeed in a career. If you can just get to this level [of competition], it puts you in front of a lot of people, and who knows what opportunity you’ll come across.”
It’s certainly paid off for Joshua, and he’s been intentional about paying it forward.
“I thank God that I’ve been able to not only achieve my goals, but also to be an example to others,” he says. “It’s awesome when you get young people coming in excited, wanting to learn something different, then when you show them the way to apply those technical skills, it’s like the light bulb goes off and they say, ‘I got this.’ That’s really the best part about it.
“This trade has treated me very well. It’s just been a great ride.”