Y.E.S. graduate on path to operating GPA’s massive cranes


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Joemell Williams, a graduate of Georgia Ports Youth Learning Equipment and Safety program, is training to become a ship-to-shore crane operator.

Employee was part of inaugural workforce development program

On a normal workday, Joemell Williams stares down through the glass cabin floor while operating one of the Georgia Ports Authority’s massive ship-to-shore cranes above the docks at Garden City Terminal. Williams is nearly four months into training as a ship-to-shore crane operator, but just graduated high school two years ago.

Williams, an Islands High School graduate, was part of the inaugural Youth Learning Equipment and Safety (Y.E.S.) class at GPA in 2018. The program provides an alternative for graduating high school seniors ready to start a career and not on a traditional four-year college track. As much of the current workforce comes closer to retirement, new, skilled workers are needed to ensure GPA stays ahead of future growth.

“It’s rare for someone Joemell’s age to be training in one of these enormous cranes,” said GPA Chief Human Resources Officer Lise Altman. “We are so proud of these first two Y.E.S. classes, who are now all operating equipment across GPA’s terminals.”
Since he was young and first saw the giant cranes along the river, Williams has dreamed of becoming a crane operator. The Y.E.S. program allowed him to fast-track his career alongside other Y.E.S. graduates who are learning the ropes at the nation’s largest single-operator container terminal.

“The Y.E.S. program was designed to define, retain and maintain students to be top-performing employees with the Georgia Ports Authority,” said Tanya Chisholm, GPA’s manager of learning and development.

Chisholm said students train for one year with a mentor, an experienced GPA employee, to safely and productively operate all the equipment at GPA’s facilities, including jockey trucks and rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTGs). The program includes hands-on and classroom training.

“GPA takes great pride in training these students when they come on board,” Chisholm said.

Williams said having Human Resources representatives accessible and working alongside his mentor helped him to jump right into launching his career at GPA. He said the process has taught him to remain true to himself and communicate effectively.

Williams said his advice to future Y.E.S. participants would be to do their research and learn as much about the organization as possible. He said the structure of the program provided an avenue to observe operations and learn from his surroundings.

“The Y.E.S. program gave me the chance to invest in myself and will allow me to have a great life,” Williams said.