Leader of Trades-Based Nonprofit Shares Vision for More Inclusive Education

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Scott Shelar found his calling in 1996 when his unique skills and background collided with a need in his community. He had held many different jobs up until that point, but that year, he became the director of education and safety for the Associated General Contractors of Georgia – and he learned then about the construction industry’s demand for quality talent.

“Construction is in my bones,” said Shelar. “My family ties to the field are strong. My grandfather, H.P. Neal, developed our community and built the home I grew up in Florida!”  

Two years later, Shelar joined Construction Ready, a Georgia-based nonprofit focused on cultivating a skilled construction workforce. 

As president and CEO of the organization, Shelar helps people of all ages and backgrounds take advantage of the myriad opportunities in the skilled trades. Since its founding in 1993, Construction Ready has nurtured partnerships with 18 construction trade organizations and 3,000 employers, and trained more than 200,000 skilled trade workers. Its flagship pre-apprenticeship program is a four-week training course that screens and trains entry-level workers interested in the skilled trades and places them in a job with a partnering employer. 

Darius, a graduate from the Westside Works location, said the program changed his life. “Construction Ready gave me focus in my life,” he said. “The program puts you in a position to connect with companies and then it’s up to you to stay with the company.”

Both program participants and employers say a major part of the organization’s effectiveness comes from Shelar’s ability to “connect the dots” between employers and the community. The success of the pre-apprenticeship program is evident: roughly 97% of participants are successfully placed in jobs, and 70% remain employed 12 months post-program. The outcomes are creating both financial and non-financial value – a steady paycheck as well as a sense of purpose and self-reliance.

Anning Johnson Company, an employer partner of Construction Ready, has hired roughly 50 program graduates who have grown into various roles throughout the company. 

 “They’ve done something really incredible,” said Edwin Parra, an operations administrator at Anning Johnson.  “Scott didn’t try to re-invent the wheel. He listened to the industry’s needs and then he applied a holistic approach to training and developing the talent coming through the door.”

The organization estimates its graduates have earned more than $60 million in wages since its launch in 2014.

Shelar is understandably proud of the program’s impressive performance. But he lights up when he starts talking about the organization’s latest project: the K-12 pipeline.  

“We are working to bring back shop class,” he said. “We recognize that people learn and thrive in different ways. Tactile or kinesthetic learners should have the opportunity to explore by holding something in their hands. It could be an elementary student driving their first nail with a hammer or a high schooler earning an industry credential. As a kinesthetic learner myself, I know the value of that experience and exposure.”

This initiative is part of a partnership with the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), philanthropic foundations and employers to provide support and services to skilled trade construction programs statewide, with 17,000-plus student participants. Teachers, counselors, work-based learning coordinators, as well as career, technical and agriculture education administrators and industry partners are involved supporting construction, metals and drafting programs in elementary, middle and high schools across the state – and working to bring unprecedented resources to local communities. 

Since the program’s launch in 2019, state legislation called the CONNECT Act has helped deliver more than $1 million in equipment funding to K-12 pipeline participants. The idea behind the CONNECT Act is simple: students should never have to stop building and creating throughout their educational experience.

In addition to the state of Georgia’s investment, three foundations including The Marcus Foundation, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and The Home Depot Foundation have granted more than $6 million toward developing Construction Ready’s K-12 Pipeline.

“It’s really about having options and being able to practically apply what you are learning in school,” says Shelar. “We are bridging the gap between schools that want a program for their students and employers that are eager to hire young people.”

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