Standing behind a registration desk and checking in hotel guests is a markedly differently line of work from standing beside a busy road, flag in hand, and making sure motorists obey the necessary instructions.
Louvenia Atkins enjoyed a 15-year career in the hospitality industry before her workplace, a hotel in Buford, closed. But as the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Through Construction Ready training, she was able to pivot to a new career as a flagger with Marietta-based Baldwin Paving.
Louvenia graduated from Construction Ready at Westside Works in August 2020. She never envisioned a career in construction, but after some initial hesitancy in stepping outside her comfort zone, she’s come to embrace her new vocation.
“I needed a job,” says Louvenia, who learned about Construction Ready through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). “They said, ‘Well, there’s this class.’ I had been in hospitality for so long, but I thought, ‘Maybe I can change careers.’ It took a little while, but I ended up at Westside Works.”
As a newcomer to the industry, Louvenia describes her initial experience in the program as a bit overwhelming.
“Everybody in my class had already been in the field,” she remembers. “One young lady, her mom and dad had their own construction company, so she was already like five years in. We had several people who had worked in residential construction. So here I was, I came from hospitality, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to make it.’”
Yolanda Davis, the instructor for Louvenia’s class, has a knack for knowing when a student needs a gentle dose of encouragement and when a more strongly worded admonition is called for. Louvenia credits the “tough love” approach with helping her overcome her doubt and fear.
“Miss Davis, said, ‘You can’t be timid, you can’t be shy – you have to present and have confidence,’” Louvenia remembers. “It took me a minute, but that helped me, and my classmates helped me, and I did it.”
Louvenia, a Hapeville resident, enrolled in the Construction Ready PLUS curriculum in early 2021. Collaborating with classmates on a woodworking project one February Saturday morning, she exuded just the sort of confidence Davis knew she had in her.
She says the advanced training has made her a more knowledgeable employee on the job site as well: “Even though I’m focused on flagging, I see other companies out there and I understand when they talk about things like blueprints and grading and site layout.”
And like many Construction Ready graduates, she’s an eager advocate for the program.
“I told my daughter she needs to go through it,” Louvenia says. “I advised one of my friends to go through it, and she did, and now she works in plumbing, and she just bought a new car. It has helped me tremendously. I really enjoy my job.”