From a young age, Ryan Jones knew he wanted to work in construction. At Mary Persons High School, he was a star pupil in instructor DJ Hurm’s construction program and, as a senior, a dual-enrollment student at Central Georgia Technical College, where he would eventually go on to earn a certification in Construction Management. He also served as president of the school’s SkillsUSA chapter, and Hurm says the school has “never had a chapter as successful as when he ran it.” By early 2022, less than six years after graduating from Mary Persons, Ryan was a full-time project manager with Peachtree City-based MEJA Construction.
“He was determined that he was going to be involved in the construction field and that he wanted to do more by going into the management aspect, and he is doing very well with it,” says Hurm. “He’s now finished his bachelors in business management [from Georgia Military College] and he’s killing it at MEJA, overseeing three to five jobs at a time, mostly school buildings.”
Jones shared his story with Construction Ready, which we present here in a Q&A format.
How did you get interested in construction?
I started at a young age. My dad drove a concrete truck for many years, so that kind of fed into it. My mom enjoyed some woodworking and cabinetry. So I kind of just grew up with that work ethic and I always liked working with my hands. I knew what I was going to do.
Talk about your involvement in DJ Hurm’s construction program and the influence he had on you.
I met DJ when I was in eighth grade. We talked about the industry and the possibilities, and when I got to ninth grade, I signed up for his class. He often tells people that freshmen aren’t always good to have in a high school construction class because sometimes they’re not mature enough to do anything with power tools. But I knew it was what I was going do with my life, so I went ahead and started as a ninth grader.
He treats his class like a business. He’s the manager, the boss. You have responsibilities to take care of, and if you don’t do those, there will be repercussions. That was the best way to prepare you for the real world, because when you get a job, if you slack off, you’re going to get fired.
What were some of your other learning experiences as a high school construction student?
Part of the class is going to visit job sites and seeing real-world applications of what you’re learning. We had many opportunities to talk with workers and learn about the positions we wanted to be in. We took a field trip to Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer. We were able to sit down with all kinds of managers and ask questions: How did they get there? What can I do to get to that position?
What was your SkillsUSA experience like?
I competed three years in the Teamworks competition, including one year as team captain. I was the electrician for all of those competitions. I found that Teamworks was the most fitting competition for me, because at a very early age I had set my goal to be a project manager, so I knew that working as a team was going to be a big part of that.
One of the good things about SkillsUSA and the Construction Ready CareerExpo is it can be a platform to build your resume. At the CareerExpo, you get to walk around and talk with all these people in the industry who are looking [to hire young men and women]. DJ gave us some great advice: He said treat it like an interview and come in dressed nicely. It’s not just an excuse to get out of school – these people have taken time out of their schedule to be there, because you’re the future of the work force, and you need to take it seriously. When you graduate high school, you can get a job, make plenty of money and have a very successful career.
What was it about project management that appealed to you?
I didn’t want to go into a specialty, like electrical or plumbing, and just be stuck doing that. I wanted to have my hands in everything. I really enjoy that. I like seeing a stack of lumber become something. I want to see the whole process. If you’re just doing electrical, when you come in, the building’s already framed and you just do your work and then you’re out of there. I wanted to be a part of the whole journey, and project manager was the best position for that.
How were you able to achieve your goal to be in that kind of position at such a young age?
During my senior year, the facilities maintenance specialist for the Monroe County School System said he was about to start a project replacing windows in one of the older buildings. Eventually the conversation led to, ‘Well if you need any help. I’d love to do that’ and he agreed, and we worked together on it over Thanksgiving break.
Then we worked together again over Christmas break, and that led to me coming on part-time. After high school, I came on full-time for the school system in the maintenance department. In 2015 they started building a fine arts center, so I got to see that process from the owner, or school system, side of the things. I remember thinking, ‘These guys are doing what I want to do.’
So Roger Onstott, the facilities director, reached out to Jason Rogers, who is chief operating officer at MEJA, and gave them my name and said, ‘You need to look at hiring this guy.’ Jason and I got together and talked about what I what I wanted to do. The following week he offered me a job, and I took it and I haven’t looked back.
I started as a product engineer and did that for probably two or two-and-a-half years. Then I moved up to assistant project manager, kind of doing the same role but taking on more responsibility. In that role, I actually managed several projects, and then about a year and a half ago, I got moved up to project manager.
What do you enjoy about work as a project manager?
The owners have an end goal of what they want to see, and I like to buy into that and make that happen. I really like to understand, ‘What do you need this to do at the end of the day? What do you need this building to function as?’ And then I can rally the troops to get behind that.