Going With the Grain – Student excels at construction studies, career goals despite physical challenge
With his hard hat and tool belt in tow, Joshua Willman is on the road by 4 a.m. most mornings. His nearly 15-hour days in ideal weather can take him as far as the Toledo suburbs, where he works in residential construction.
The Fort Wayne native’s demanding routine between work and school isn’t typical for the average Ivy Tech Community College Northeast student, but then again, he isn’t the average student.
Willman was born profoundly deaf to hearing parents. Since childhood, he has worked to develop his proficiency at lip-reading and has worn standard hearing aids to help him gain a sense of sound and practice his voice. His parents opted not to pursue surgically invasive cochlear implants for him. Coincidentally, his upbringing included relationships with two cousins who are also deaf.
Willman developed his occupational interest in construction once he learned members of his extended family work in the field, particularly his uncle. “I used to sit back and watch how he built houses. I became interested in what he was doing and thought I’d like to build my own house someday,” says Willman, through American Sign Language interpreter Kathy Gomez.
Beginning with his junior year, Willman split his academic studies between Snider High School and Anthis Career Center’s Construction Trades program.Through Anthis, Willman gained carpentry skills and helped frame two houses during his first- and second-year course work. His Anthis teachers were also responsible for introducing their students to Ivy Tech Northeast’s Building Construction Management and Construction Technology programs, where students had the opportunity to earn associate degrees and certificates in the skilled trade they enjoyed.
Willman followed the tip and enrolled at the College as a construction technology major during fall semester 2013, and he took an immediate liking to blueprint reading.
“It’s a complex challenge,” Willman says. “You really have to look at something to understand it, how to read it, and then match it up with measurements.” Construction technology instructor Jonathan Keck has been impressed by Willman’s willingness to accept challenges.
“Josh was always enthusiastic and animated in class,” Keck says. “Josh was very focused on the tasks and is willing to put in the effort to accomplish goals.”Willman’s achievements also garnered the attention of Jonas Miller, owner of New Haven, Ind.-based J & M Miller Construction LLC, which specializes in residential construction and repairs. Miller is a family friend who heard about Willman’s experience at Anthis, prompting him to offer Willman a job as a general laborer last May. “He has kept improving his carpentry skills,” Miller says. “He is becoming a great framer and roofer.”
Willman’s job performance continued to ascend and, two months later, Miller promoted Willman to safety inspector once he secured his general industry training certification from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
And Willman has had no reservations about doing what’s necessary to keep his three work crews safe.“I’ll sign, ‘Get your safety glasses on. Get your hat on. Where are your boots? Where are your gloves?’” says Willman, who shares that he also consults safety signs and safety literature when warranted. Co-workers are encouraged to gesture and speak slowly in return. Willman says he prefers to write out complex directions, even if that means conveying the information on two-by-fours used in framing homes.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Willman received another surprise appointment from Miller—a promotion to succeed him as senior foreman effective immediately, which will mean overseeing as many as 30 crew members in warmer months.
“It’s proven to be a really big responsibility to run the crews, do paperwork, read blueprints, and sign documents on the owner’s behalf,” Willman says.
But this opportunity is a fitting venture for Willman, who says he wants to become a licensed general contractor and a business owner in 10 to 15 years, thus proving his future is under construction in more ways than one.