It took Guillermo nearly 20 years to reach a level of financial success in the U.S. that he previously enjoyed in his native Chile.
Back then, Guillermo was a business owner, operating two gas stations in Los Angeles — a city in the south central part of that South American nation. But in 1998, the country was rocked by a severe economic crisis. He lost everything. Around the same time, his marriage ended. The next year, Guillermo, then 37, sought a fresh start in America.
“I came to America because we have a huge opportunity here,” he said. “It’s a great country.”
Guillermo moved to Florida, where he remarried, and for 12 years he worked in construction. In the Sunshine State, many people spoke Spanish like Guillermo, which made it easy to find work. Advancing his career was a different matter, however. Despite attending some construction classes and acquiring some specialized construction certifications, Guillermo’s broken English held him back.
After moving to Missouri in 2010, he struggled even more with the language barrier, but practice improved his English skills. One of his certifications led to a job as a manager building specially insulated walls in Nashville in 2012, but the company closed soon after.
Guillermo and his wife loved Tennessee and decided to stay. They settled in Smyrna with their child, but he still needed work.
He sought help from Goodwill Career Solutions. Guillermo took a digital literacy course, received assistance with his resume and attended a Goodwill-hosted job fair in 2013. He found a construction job, and two years later he attended another Goodwill job fair. Then, a friend told him about Goodwill’s Construction Training Program.
The program, which began in 2012, is housed in an industrial complex in West Nashville. Students attend classes five days a week for six weeks, receiving a stipend of $100 per week. Most take advantage of a free shuttle from Goodwill’s headquarters downtown.
Three hours of each day are spent in the classroom, and three are spent in the workshop. Students learn technical skills such as the names and use of most construction tools, how to stay safe on a job site, construction math, how to properly measure materials for projects, how to read blueprints and more. But they also receive other life and employability skills in areas such as communication and budgeting.
Upon completion of the course, students receive certification from the National Council for Construction, Education and Research.
Guillermo signed up for the course, and quickly struck up a friendship with the instructor, Tim Kahn — who has had a long career as a builder and contractor. Guillermo said Tim inspired him to want to become a general contractor.
“Tim teach me a lot of things. The way he explains everything — you see everything easy,” Guillermo recalled.
Kahn said there is one adjective that can be used to describe all of his students who have overcome a barrier — such as difficulty speaking English — and gone on to build a career in construction. The word is “relentless.”
“Everybody’s got different issues, and you are going to get knocked down. How many times are you going to get back up?” he explained. “(Guillermo) is like those Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. You knock him down — he’s back up. He’s going to keep going, and that makes a huge difference.”
Kahn said Guillermo knew his way around certain types of construction, was highly intelligent and had impressive math skills, but he needed help broadening his industry knowledge and improving his ability to communicate with potential clients.
“Even after he left the class, we spent a lot of time together going over blueprints and helping him bid projects,” Kahn said.
Guillermo graduated from the program in 2013 and then completed Goodwill’s forklift training classes as well. He studied hard, and soon he became the first of Kahn’s students to earn his general contractor’s license. Several others have since followed in Guillermo’s footsteps.
“I was very proud of him for that effort,” Kahn said.
Just one year after graduating from Goodwill’s Construction Training Program, Guillermo started a business — A&G Construction. He has since overseen demolition and renovation projects for numerous homeowners as well as for a number of businesses, including a hotel in Clarksville, a bank in Franklin and four hair salons in Tennessee and Alabama.
“Thanks to Goodwill and Tim Kahn, I now own a business, a house, multiple cars and a happy marriage,” Guillermo said.
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— By Chris Fletcher
Prior to joining Goodwill as its PR & Communications Manager in 2014, Fletcher was a professional journalist for
more than 25 years working at media outlets in three states, including the Associated Press.