In 2014, when Ian Miller heard about the Construction Ready program at Westside Works in Atlanta, he thought it was a “money ploy” to get grants to support its own staff, rather than train participants for entry-level jobs.
“I was skeptical,” says the 29-year-old Miller, a 2014 Construction Ready graduate and field engineer with Holder Construction Co. He now recommends the program to others, calling it “wonderful.”
Construction Ready targets at-risk residents of Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest. About 80% of the participants have a criminal background. Miller himself had spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery.
The tuition-free program teaches basic construction skills, such as the use of hand and power tools. It also teaches workplace behaviors, such as arriving on time. Each 20-day session has 20 students.
Participants begin with 100 points. If they don’t follow the school’s rules, their scores go down. “If you drop below 70 points, you fire yourself and can reapply after 90 days,” says Scott Shelar, president and CEO of the nonprofit Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), the Westside Works partner that leads the Construction Ready program.
At the course’s end, there is a hiring fair, with 10 to 15 employers present. “It’s like speed dating,” says Shelar. Then, CEFGA matches up employers with graduates. The new hires’ average hourly wage is $13, which exceeds the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage.
Of 313 adults trained in three years, 294 have been placed in jobs with 130 different union and open-shop employers. The job retention rate after one year is 75%—25% better than the national average for training programs, says Shelar.
Westside Works is funded by $15 million from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Blank is the owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team and the Atlanta United soccer team. He is also the developer of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, set to open on Aug. 26 (ENR 7/24-31 p. 28).
Shelar approached the Blank foundation about creating Construction Ready, which has spread to other Atlanta neighborhoods, after reading quotes from Blank in a 2014 article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. In the piece, Blank said he was committed to transforming the Westside, which abuts the stadium, through job training.
Miller is glad to have jumped on the Construction Ready bandwagon. He has been steadily employed since graduating. One year, while working at the stadium, he earned $60,000, thanks to overtime.
Miller recently got married. The couple’s first child is due on Sept. 8. “Overall, the program changed my life,” he says.