Defining Moments

Construction Ready Training Helped Kelli Smalls ‘Redefine Myself’ and Craft a New Career in Property Maintenance

Much like the skyline that surrounds her place of work in Midtown Atlanta, Kelli Smalls’ career is on a distinctly upward trajectory. Since going to work as a Service Technician for RangeWater Real Estate in 2021, Kelli has been promoted twice – first to Service Director, then to her current role as Senior Service Director at Lilli Midtown, a 25-story luxury apartment community on Peachtree Street. 

Kelli graduated with Gwinnett Group 3 in our Pre-Apprenticeship training program; a year later she was honored with a Graduate of the Year Award in our 2022 Champion Awards program. At Lilli, she oversees maintenance on everything from HVAC and water heating systems to the complex’s 10,000-gallon saltwater pool. She also trains new employees and assists in managing maintenance at other Georgia properties in the RangeWater family.

Here, in her own words, is the story of Kelli’s journey to a thriving career in property maintenance. 

Prior to Construction Ready, I was running my own business. I built custom furniture for restaurants and nightclubs, and I also renovated houses.

I learned about Construction Ready on Instagram one day. It flashed by, and I was like, ‘What is this about?’ I clicked on it, but I didn’t actually register for another four months, because I was busy with my own business at the time.

Initially I didn’t know what it consisted of. I just wanted to get some baseline information. But I was also looking for a way to kind of pivot and change directions from what I was doing. I’ve always been interested in construction. I love working with my hands. And I was like, ‘Well, if this is something that’s going to help me, then let me see what it’s about.’

Construction Ready allowed me to redefine myself. It gave me a refresher on discipline – waking up early, making sure I’m there on time, making sure I have a good work ethic. And it just kind of reminded me what it’s like to be in an actual workforce setting, being professional, being communicative. And being in that classroom setting again turned out to be really good. I loved my classmates; the camaraderie that we had was great.

A lot of companies came out to the hiring fair. I actually didn’t match with RangeWater while I was there. I matched with another company, but I felt like RangeWater would have been a better fit for me. Since they were already familiar with me from the hiring fair, I reached out to them, and I started working for them two weeks after graduation.

What I enjoy most about my work at RangeWater is having the opportunity to work on multiple things at one time. I really enjoy training and teaching other people things. I enjoy my connections with the residents here on site. It also offers opportunities to go outside of my normal market. I participate in trade fairs, I go out to STEM programs. And I’m constantly learning. No two days are the same here, so I’m learning as I go all the time.

I’ve been to a few hiring fairs for Construction Ready. Having the opportunity to come back and be a part of that was something that blew my mind. Being able to speak to the graduates in the program, I tell them, ‘Hey, I’ve been right where you are; this is where I am now.’ So I like that aspect of the job as well.

I think the most meaningful experience I’ve had with RangeWater so far is being able to get the members of my team elevated – to get them the training they need to move up to the next level. That’s the most fulfilling part of my job, to make sure that not only I’m doing well, but the people who are following me are doing well.

RangeWater offers a lot of in-house training. Lilli is a high-rise property, so of course we have elevators, and I was just thinking, ‘What can I do to not only make my job better, but to make it more uniform for anybody else who’s coming in and doesn’t have experience with elevators? So I reached out to Alexis Muir [of TK Elevator and a former Construction Ready staffer], and asked her if we can partner up and do some training for elevator safety. I ran the idea by my director of safety and training, and he loved it. So he’s letting me spearhead an elevator safety training initiative and I’ll be teaching that class.

I would tell anyone to definitely go through the program if you have the opportunity. Construction Ready is a great tool to not only give you skills, it also gives you the opportunity to network with people. If you are interested in a trade and it’s something that you want to do, keep going. Don’t give up on yourself; never let anybody tell you that your dreams are too big.

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