Public, private agencies focus on diversifying infrastructure staff

Diversity programs, a stock index and increased recruiting efforts are among the tools that transport companies and other groups are using to improve diversity in the infrastructure workforce, according to participants’ comments a July webinar panel hosted by United For Infrastructure, a Washington, DC-based non-partisan organization dedicated to renewing the country’s roads, bridges, and more.

These agencies and groups say that attracting people from all backgrounds is imperative to alleviate the current labor crisis. June Construction employment in 39 states remained below the pre-pandemic peak dated February 2020, according to an analysis of federal government data by the Associated General Contractors of America.

For example, the California State Transportation Agency is developing a stock index, according to David Kim, secretary of the agency that manages the state’s roads, trains, and water transportation systems. The tool helps evaluate projects and investments from an equity perspective.

This could “very well be the first analytical tool of its kind in the country,” Kim said during the panel.

CalSTA will also add diversity and inclusion statements to job postings, and compare its employee demographics at the district and division level with those of the regions it serves, Kim said.

“It’s our job as leaders to break down barriers and create a workforce that truly represents the communities we serve,” said Kim. “We are currently taking steps to improve our recruiting, hiring and contracting practices and leadership development opportunities for all employees to ensure they have the skills and tools to grow as leaders.”

Diversity programs in progress

The California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority is also working with schools to provide internships, scholarships, and entry-level opportunities for the Merced to Bakersfield high-speed rail project. The initiative is “really committed to expanding opportunities for women and others who have historically been underrepresented in jobs in the transportation sector,” said Kim.

Because of this, organizations across the country are striving to create career paths for people who have traditionally been underrepresented in the industry. Among them is Oregon Tradeswomen, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that specializes in helping women prepare for careers in the building trade.

“There is a lot of research to show that different teams in the construction sector have higher productivity, higher retention, higher levels of loyalty and problem solving, and that adds value to the company,” said Kelly Kupcak, Group General Manager. “The discussion about equality has a certain dynamic that has been in large part boosted by the Black Lives Matter movement. We saw a new awareness of what equality means from a racial perspective, but also from a gender equality perspective. “

In contrast to a four-year course, the program lasts eight weeks with a total of 192 hours and enables students to quickly get started in the construction industry. She said the average starting wage last year for women who completed the program was $ 22.81.

Kupcak pointed to them National Task Force for the Affairs of Craftsmen “ 10 points infrastructure equity, and “very tangible things Congress can do to support justice and infrastructure.” The mission of the National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues is to bring together local, regional and national expertise and measures to help craftspeople gain access, opportunities and equal opportunities in the construction industry, according to their website.

The 10 items include, for example, annual updated numerical participation targets for the percentage of total hours worked by women and minorities as well as public online reporting on the achievement of the participation targets. The nonprofit recommends that every infrastructure package that is committed includes these components.

Solution of the image problem in public

A major problem in the construction industry is the shortage of skilled workers, said Brian Turmail, vice president of Public Affairs and Strategic Initiatives at Associated General Contractors of America, during the webinar.

One of the trends causing this problem is the mood when entering the construction industry. Turmail referred to a social change in the USA that attaches great importance to a professional career and devalues ​​career paths such as the construction industry.

The trend plays a role in the diversity issue in the industry, said panelist Beverly Scott, founder of Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure, a nonprofit. Solving this problem is one of the most important tasks in the industry.

“We have a big public image problem,” said Scott. “We have to re-market ourselves, we have to rename ourselves.”

Because of this, AGC focuses on three approaches: recruiting, training, and retention.

On the recruiting side, Turmail said AGC has done “a lot of work with targeted digital advertising”. That means trying to sell construction trades using the same technology that Zappos uses to sell shoes, for example. With digital advertising, AGC hopes to reach households and explain that a career in construction is comprised of technology, teamwork, creativity, well-paid benefits and is open to all backgrounds.

Allison Scott, director of design thought leadership and customer marketing at Autodesk, agreed.

“It’s a really big perception problem for young professionals, especially underrepresented youth, who don’t even see the depth and breadth of the jobs that are available in the construction system today,” said Scott.

AGC has switched to virtual training programs due to the pandemic, a move that has resulted in a significant increase in diversity due to online access, Turmail said. Autodesk had a similar experience.

“Access to virtual training is incredibly important in making it more accessible and relatable,” said Scott. “We actually saw a lot of success in our virtual digital building summer school this year, where we trained educators on these great, exciting tools. Even in local programs like our STEM building program in Boston, where we’re working very closely, “with elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to show them what’s possible and that kind of exposure is incredibly important.”

Improvement in retention rates

Scott also noted that technology plays an important role in attracting and retaining young workers.

“You don’t see people walking around with iPads, using their Apple watches to check warnings, going back to the trailer and looking at a 360-degree picture, or putting on their VR headsets to understand a channel interferes with a wall, “she said.” These are very tech-savvy jobs that require advanced digital skills today. “

For customer loyalty, AGC launched its in 2020 CARE culture Program, a curriculum for creating more welcoming and inclusive workplaces in construction companies. More than 547 companies have accepted the association’s promise to create a job free from harassment, bullying and bullying.

“Mom doesn’t want her babies to grow up to be construction workers,” said Turmail. “And the reason for that is that we’ve divested in this technical apprenticeship and we don’t have students exposed to the fact that construction or infrastructure is a career path that should be in demand.”

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