By Sarah Ford
Just a year ago, DeTonia Gooden was working as a part-time retail employee. Now, she works as Director of Operations at a safety consultancy company. How ambition, and some help, changed her career and her life in just 10 months.
DeTonia Gooden’s office sits in the upper floors of a large plaza building off East Evans Avenue, the corner office in the three-room suite reserved for Advanced Safety Consulting. Though the space is small, it welcomes guests with a light blue carpet and unique wall hangings decorating the space, colored in streaming natural light.
The comfort in the space reflects just how at home Gooden has made herself with this company — and in this field — less than a year after entering the world of construction for the first time.
In February 2018, Gooden turned on the TV to a commercial for WorkNow, a job training and employment platform for those looking to enter the field of construction.
Ever-curious and with an insatiable desire for education, Gooden picked up the phone.
“It was like, ‘OK, let’s give it a try,” said Gooden. “It was something new, something different, a new industry to learn, and I’m always one for learning. I made that commitment to myself to not miss a class, come on time, and I learned so much.”
It’s an entirely different path than Gooden could have imagined for herself at 17, when she was expelled from her Chicago high school due to absenteeism.
“From a young age, I was one of those bright people, very intelligent and gifted,” said Gooden. “Throughout middle school, I was always in gifted programs. In high school it was honors classes. But then, high school became a chore. I got bored and stopped going.”
That was just fine, for a while. Gooden got a license to work as a nail technician and made the most of her freedom. Then she found out she was pregnant with her son, SaVon.
“I didn’t want him to be embarrassed, and I wanted him to be proud of me,” she said. “I believe that with anyone, education is your way out of whatever situation that you may be in. Whether it’s not formal education or some type of learning, the ability to get things done, the ability to broaden your mind ... is a way out of any situation,”
That’s the path Gooden took. She returned to community college for her GED and didn’t stop there. She went on to eventually receive an MBA.
When she saw the commercial for WorkNow, she was living in Thornton holding down two jobs between working at the GAP and a local phone bank.
Though she loved her role at the GAP, where she worked as a leader of corporate training, she knew she could transfer those leadership skills to an industry where she saw the value of immediate demand.
“This was hands-on, it was here, it was now,” said Gooden. “It was relevant, and that’s what I wanted. It was something to ... I call it ‘putting it into my arsenal.’ I have a really great arsenal and I needed those hands-on training experiences in construction to be relevant here in Denver right now.”
So she started attending classes, taking the bus every day from Thornton to Denver while also balancing two jobs. Her answer to how she juggled so much her answer is simple:
“You just do it,” said Gooden. “You have to make that commitment to yourself to finish, because that’s important, and you have to be studious about it.”
She had support from the WorkNow program, which not only provides free classes in the construction field for students but also connects them to career counseling, resources, and job placements after completion of the program. Through its partnership with Construction Careers Now, WorkNow has assisted over 300 program participants in job placements.
“Anything free is worth having that commitment, is worth being serious about,” said Gooden.
“It’s not just taking the construction class. It’s making sure you finish, it’s making sure you’re employable, it’s the resume-writing, it’s the interviewing skills. There’s a lot of resources that WorkNow has.”
Through her classes, Gooden found that not only is the field of construction a practical shift in Denver’s market, but that she personally had a passion for the work.
“It’s been absolutely fun because I do have the business side of it, I have the educational side of it, and [now] I have the real-world, practical experience. I’ve worked in a lot of industries, so I am able to handle myself well, but … construction is fun! It’s really fun.”
But it wasn’t just the career development where Gooden found her personal growth.
“I was always of the mind that there was a man for that, whether it be washing my car or pumping my gas,” she said. “But after the class, I was taking pictures of things like ‘I helped build that!’ I went and got a dresser for myself from WalMart and I put it together and it was like ‘Oh my God, I did it by myself!’”
She is still using her background in business and leadership in her current role as Director of Operations and Business Development with Advanced Safety Consulting, a role she was promoted to from office management in the eight months she has worked with the company.
For that, she has her confidence and assertiveness to thank. Gooden received three raises in 90 days, which she attributes to valuing herself and being willing to ask. She is now using her insight as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field to guide other women.
“As women, we have to ask, you know? Ask for the raise, ask for more responsibility, ask for more duties, and you’ll find more often than not that you’ll get it,” Gooden said.
Even in the new position, Gooden’s desire for education continues just as strong as it’s always been. She is now pursuing further education in welding, which she found she particularly enjoys, and hopes to one day have her own welding business. Along with the Director of Operations position, Gooden is pursuing scholarships to further her education in welding and still working part-time at the GAP.
“I didn’t think I was a welder, but it was just so much fun and I found out that I’m good at it,” said Gooden. “It was having a skill that was kind of innate, but I want to develop it now, I want to learn more about it, and that’s where the formal education in it comes from.”
At the end of the day, she can call her son, now 24, and tell him of every new milestone, and know she has what she always wanted: his pride for her accomplishments.
“He is my motivation. I want him to be proud of me,” said Gooden. “In my everyday life, he is the one who keeps me grounded, and he is the kind of person I strive to be like.” ■