Meet BJ Wells

6 questions for WMCI’s Lead Instructor & Director of Curriculum.

 

Tell us about your career pathway:

I always wanted to be an educator, I just didn’t know what I wanted to teach. I decided to go to college and I remember flipping through this thick course catalog looking for inspiration. I saw something on industrial design and, even though I had never taken a shop class in high school, it looked really interesting. I dove in. While my friends were taking poly sci and philosophy, I was in the basement designing and then building my own bar.

 

I heard your first work in construction was a little…unique.

Yep. After my freshman year at college I decided I would move out of the dorms to live with a couple of my buddies. There was really only one small issue. We didn’t have a house to live in!!

Well, we decided to go a bit of an unconventional route and build one. My older brother was a builder and I was very grateful that he took me under his wing and guided me through the construction process. After a few months, he wound up taking a job in Lansing and turned all the construction over to me! So I often say that I learned how to build houses over the phone – calling him up with questions and then just figuring the rest out on my own.

IF YOU WERE ABOUT TO GRADUATE AND UNSURE OF WHAT TO DO NEXT, WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

“Some people have the fear to fail. But some people have the fear to succeed. The important thing is that you must never be afraid to learn.”

Did you stick with construction or wind up back in education?

The goal was to become a teacher, but I graduated college right when the housing market crashed. There were ZERO jobs in education. So I got a job installing drywall and during that time we’d take just about any gig we could. It could be a little intimidating at times since I didn’t exactly know what I was doing, but the great thing about working construction is that you learn to be first and foremost a problem-solver. So even when you don’t know the solution right away, you know how to get there.

Eventually I did get an education job as the wood shop teacher at South Haven High School and then at Jenison High School. I started only part time, but I saw so much untapped potential with students that wanted to be out of a traditional classroom setting and work with their hands that our class offerings doubled and I went full time my second year.

 

Why did you decide to be the lead instructor at West Michigan Construction Institute?

I love the challenge and the thrill of building something from the ground up. But more importantly I have a passion for getting students involved and excited about working in the trades.

With the high wages, boom in exciting projects, and opportunities for upward career mobility, I don’t know if there’s ever been a better time for a young person to get into the construction trades. There are some of the most innovative companies right here in West Michigan and they’re ALL looking for good people.

What do you see as the most important skills and training professionals need to be successful in the construction industry?

I’ve always preached the importance of learning soft skills – understanding the steps you need to take to be a good person. Anyone can teach you how to swing a hammer. But the people that are the most successful and happy in life are the ones that learn how to communicate properly, help each other, stay focused, and be a team leader.

I’m very excited to teach our students the wide variety of tactical skills it takes to be a construction pro, but I’m especially looking forward to teaching the leadership qualities that will make them be able to get the job and live the life they love.