At Home in the Driver’s Seat

Sarahjane Johnson Found a Career Opportunity in Trucks and Heavy Equipment

With her high school graduation approaching in spring of 2021, Sarahjane Johnson wasn’t sure what her next step would be. But it certainly didn’t involve construction. As she recalls, “I was one of those people in high school, when someone would ask, ‘What do you want to do when you get out of school?’ I never knew.”

Then a counselor told her about a brand-new – and fully funded – construction training opportunity, and something clicked. Construction Ready was launching a version of its four-week Pre-Apprenticeship “boot camp” for recent high school graduates in several regions around Georgia, including Athens, where Sarahjane resided. She graduated from Clarke Central High School in May, went through the Jackson-Clarke Group 1 training class in June, and was on a job with G.P.’s Enterprises, a northeast Georgia-based highway construction company, by July.

In the following Q&A, she shares more about her career journey, her work on a large reconstruction project along State Route 316, and more.

Tell us more about how you ended up in the construction industry.

My counselor sent me a list of careers [to consider] and that was one of them. I watched a Construction Ready video, and I looked up all the different parts of construction, everything it offered, how they’re all kind of connected. I was really amazed by how I could be a part of actually building something. I think that’s kind of what drew me to it.

You’ve been with G.P.’s Enterprises for more than two years now, so you must be enjoying it, right?

Yes, I actually like it a lot. It’s funny, because everybody always asks me, ‘How’d you end up in construction?’ Because I don’t, you know, really seem like the construction type. I just kind of floated into construction and it turns out I really enjoy it here.

What are some of the things you enjoy about it?

I like the fact that we don’t do the same thing every day. Like some days I’ll be in a truck, other days I’ll be maybe on a shovel or flagging or something – it’s not the same every day. For people who like change, it’s a good thing.

And the people, they’re great people. They want to help you. They want you to learn and be great. Being appreciated at a job is very important to me. It’s just so much learning. I mean, even after two years, I don’t know the half of it. I love learning something every day. I’m just more and more amazed.

What kind of work are you doing?

When I first started, I was doing erosion, setting silt fences and digging ditches. Then they moved me to grading and I started doing a smooth roller, and from there, I worked my way up. Now I’m operating a dozer and a backhoe. When I first started, there was just a mountain of dirt, and now we have roads, and we’re working on more roads. You can see the pieces coming together. It’s very satisfying.

Have you had any particular memorable on-the-job experiences?

Not long after I first started, they had me in large dump trucks. For about six months, all we were doing was moving dirt – a lot of dirt. When you’re driving a truck, you get loaded by the backhoe. And all that time I would just sit in my truck and watch them load it every single day.

So fast-forward maybe two or three months, one day a backhoe operator got sick after lunch. And they were looking at it, like, ‘We need somebody to help.’ And I decided to jump in and I just started loading trucks. I remember exactly how he was doing it. It was amazing for me, because I was like, ‘I can just put my mind to it and do it.’ And the more you do something, the easier it becomes. I think I’ve got it down pretty good now.

I really enjoy driving. I found that out here, that I really like driving, so now I’m studying for my CDL, and I’m hoping I can get that and get more experience driving and maybe move up.

What was the Construction Ready Pre-Apprenticeship training experience like for you? What were some of the most meaningful lessons you learned?

The training was great, especially with the instructors we had. They made it fun and they made it easy to grasp. They didn’t overwhelm you with anything, and there were a lot of [hands-on] activities, which I like.

It taught me that punctuality is very important – punctuality and being professional. Having a professional persona is good for the people at the top looking at you – I think it can help you move up. Getting me used to the seven-to-five helped a lot, because it can be strenuous when you’re not used to working 10 hours a day. Right now we’re working like 14 hours a day, which is crazy. But when you’re not used to that, you’ll be used to like maybe a six-hour shift, an eight-hour shift, it really made a difference.

What would say to someone considering Construction Ready training?

I would tell them to listen carefully to everything that is taught, because it’s all important, especially with the OSHA 10 and the sections about hazards, because those are real. I’ve seen people get hurt. It’s not fun.

Have you found the credentials you earned to be helpful?

Yes, especially a few months ago, when I was the only person on the job site with the First Aid card. Thankfully nothing happened, but we’re pretty short-staffed and it’s not easy for them to send people to go get certifications when they need to be working. So for me to have First Aid, it helped a lot.

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