Alexander Avellaneda (left) is the first student in Berkmar High School’s construction pathway to career program to sign on for a full-time job with a program sponsor. Ashton Watt of Eckardt Electric (left) congratulates the student on his hard work and dedication. CONTRIBUTED

Career pathway pays off for Gwinnett senior

As many of his fellow members of the class of 2018 prepare for years of student debt, Berkmar High School senior Alexander Avellaneda will be earning a wage. He’s the first member of the Gwinnett County school’s Architecture and Construction Academy to graduate and get a job with a community business partner.

To celebrate this milestone, the school held a “signing day” of sorts in the construction lab.

Eckardt Electric has donated money, materials and, most importantly, time. When the Berkmar team needed somewhere to practice for the Skills USA competition earlier this spring, Eckhardt let students use its facility and provided training.

“Eckardt wasn’t just a partner, they were advisers and we committed to the students and this program,” said Academy coach John Tronolone. “This is the third year for the pathway-to-career program and they’ve been with us from the beginning.”

A survey of construction businesses released last year showed that 87 percent called the search for skilled workers their top problem.

Ashton Watt, personnel and recruiting manager at Eckardt Electric, said the company is definitely looking for great workers, but is also looking to be a great neighbor.

“Growing talent in our backyard helps in recruitment and retention and having good people in management and beyond,” said Watt, who attended the ceremony.

Watt said his company could be the model for others.

“There are so many benefits in being part of this program,” he said. “I don’t know why more businesses aren’t involved.”

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the Georgia construction industry needs about 15,000 new workers every year — half of those in metro Atlanta.

Avellaneda will spend five years in an apprenticeship program. He plans to attend college to take some business courses to eventually be his own boss.

“I’d like to be a subcontractor one day,” he said adding that he’s given notice at his part-time job at McDonald’s.

Having the options in high school has prepared him for a bright future.

“I started out in masonry and then really liked electrical,” he said. “The academy let me try things out before I committed my future to it.”

And as a pioneer of sorts, he has advice for the students following in his footseps: “There are so many opportunities, don’t be afraid to try them. They will open doors for you like they did for me.”

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