By Mark Messer
Special to The Ellsworth American
BLUE HILL — Local business owners and employees shared career insights with George Stevens Academy sophomores and juniors last week.
Some knew at a young age what they wanted to do, like Toni Staples, a 1986 GSA graduate and the school’s pastry chef.
When Staples was young, she started cooking with her grandmother and mother. It was a way to make people happy, she said, and she knew early on it would her career.
After graduating high school, she earned a degree in culinary arts and returned to the area, where she worked first in the restaurant business, then at the Adams School. Staples took the job at GSA three years ago so she could focus solely on baking, a position at which she excels.
“People have to eat,” she said, “and they like to have other people cook for them,” so there will always be a lot of good jobs in the area.
Last summer, she said, local restaurants were desperate for cooks, and some were offering $25 an hour.
Doug Veazie, who graduated from GSA in 2018, has been into cars and motorcycles as long as he can remember. One day, he went to Stanley Subaru and asked for an unpaid internship in the service department. Maybe he “should have made a resume,” he said, but everything worked out.
Veazie is now a service technician at the dealership, where he is able to pursue his passion. The company frequently sends him to Boston for further training, which he likes because the better he is at his job, the more he earns.
There is no shortage of jobs in the area for automotive technicians, and Veazie said that success in the business depends on building good relationships. To do that, “patience is key,” especially for people in his generation.
Shelly Schildroth, a member of the GSA class of 2000, also knew early on what she wanted to do for a living. She loved school, and her friends told her she was good at helping other people learn, so teaching was a natural fit.
She earned a degree at the University of Maine and went into teaching. After years in the classroom, she was asked to be an interim curriculum coordinator, and after that, she took her current job as principal at the Blue Hill Consolidated School. Her success all along the way, she said, depended on having good mentors. Everyone should find someone they aspire to be like and learn from them.
Her advice for students considering a career in education: there’s always a need for good teachers in the area, but it isn’t a high-paying job, so “you should only go into teaching if you have a passion for it.”
Heather Brackett’s passion for having her own money brought her to the working world as an eighth-grader. She continued working, largely in hospitality, until she went to college for business on the advice of a family member.
“Mom was a banker,” Brackett said, and when she was younger, she “was never going to be a banker,” but after graduating, she decided to give it a chance as there were “lots of jobs in banking.” After working in many different roles, she is now the Blue Hill branch manager at Bar Harbor Bank & Trust.
“I can’t tell you how much of a difference having a positive attitude makes” in career success.
She also stressed the importance of keeping an open mind, particularly when things don’t seem to go well. When a new employee gets job feedback, they should remember that “criticism isn’t a bad thing. Think of it as coaching.”
Like Brackett, Tony Bryant did not want to follow in his parents’ footsteps. The graduate of the GSA Class of 1984 worked in their store, now the Eggemoggin Country Store, when he was young, and he swore he would never own one. He kept his word for quite some time.
After high school, Bryant took a job at the Bucksport mill, and his interest in the business helped him rise in the ranks, ending up “No. 2 from the top” overseeing multimillion-dollar budgets. He saw a lot of people hired, many straight out of college, but “more important than any degree was how well people could learn.”
Before the mill closed, Bryant retired, and then went back into the family business as owner of Mike’s Market II in Blue Hill. He also works remodeling homes and typically works 80 hours a week between the two jobs. That might sound like a lot to some, but he enjoys what he does, and “if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do well,” he said, encouraging students to choose their careers carefully.
Mike Astbury, a 2003 GSA graduate, “started at the end of a shovel and a rake,” putting in new lawns and landscaping for the family groundwork and construction business, M.E. Astbury and Son. After heading to college, he continued working as much as he could in summers and joined the company full time after graduation. He now works as a project manager for the company, drawing up estimates for customers.
Two things got him where he is today: “a good work ethic” and a “good attitude,” he said. He encouraged students to consider working in the field, as there are a lot of jobs now and there will be even more in the near future, he said, as the average Mainer in construction is 50 years old.
A good attitude is also important at Brooklin Boat Yard, where Brian Larkin is a project manager. “The people who are successful here have the best attitudes,” and the positive culture they have created keeps turnover low, as exemplified by Larkin himself, who took a summer job at the boatyard and has never left.
This positive culture also helped the boatyard recover quickly from the recession in the late 2000s. One key, he said, is to hire from the local community when possible, as people who already live here aren’t surprised by the winter.
Samantha Haskell, a 2005 GSA graduate, studied community development in college. When she returned to the area, she took a job at Blue Hill Books, owned by her friend’s parents. In 2017, she bought the business.
The transition to ownership was easier, Haskell said, because of “the mentorship aspect” of her time there as an employee. It “was a huge help in getting to know the ins and outs” of running a bookstore, which includes lots of work outside business hours.
Haskell sees her role as a business owner not just as selling books, though. She also uses Blue Hill Books as a tool for community development, hosting or sponsoring various events throughout the year.
David W. Gray, owner of David W. Gray Carpentry, knew he “wanted to get out of high school fast” and had no interest in further formal education after graduating from GSA in 1980. “College isn’t right for everyone,” he said.
Gray found work in construction and eventually started his own business 23 years ago. He stressed the availability of jobs in the trades, which includes electrical, plumbing, heating, masonry, carpentry and more.
“There are tons of positions,” he said, for contractors and subcontractors, and he is happy when he can hire locally. “The money stays here,” he said, and people who live in the community tend to care more about the community.
The career panel was part of a special program at GSA that takes place quarterly during extended advisory periods. The program aims to educate students on important topics that might not otherwise be covered in their classes. While sophomores and juniors considered career opportunities, freshmen worked in small groups on media literacy, and seniors learned about voting.