Area Organizations’ Programs Focus on Workforce, Diversity, Inclusion

By on February 25, 2019

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

If programs held last week were any indication, St. Louis construction industry organizations are taking a proactive approach to understanding and addressing the complex details of development of a more diverse and inclusive workforce and better M/WBE participation on contracts.

Midwest Council ASA

Last Wednesday (Feb. 20) the Midwest Council ASA hosted a panel discussion on workforce development at its monthly membership meeting. The panel was assembled and moderated by Steve Albart, president, south region, Enterprise Bank and Trust. Participating were Chris DeGeare, interim associate dean, career and technical education (CTE), Jefferson College; Byron Lane, carpentry instructor, North Tech High School; Steve Lewis, vice president, AGCMO; Ron Wiese, Vice President-Estimating, Alberici Construction Company; Cathy Cook, welding coordinator, St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Joint Training Fund; and Tom Finan, executive director, Construction Forum STL.

Big takeaways from the presentations — which stressed the changing demographics of the workforce were:

  • There is not a shortage of workers in the St. Louis construction market, but there is a shortage of non-traditional workers including African Americans, Hispanics, and women. Unless nontraditional workers can be convinced to enter the construction workforce in the next few years, shortages will exist.
  • Parents, teachers, and guidance counselors have difficulty connecting with information about construction careers. Further there is a shortage of CTE programs in middle and high schools. Panelists urged ASA members to become engaged with their school boards and advocate for CTE programs and better communication on career information in the schools.
  • Apprentices need to be mentored and be kept working. Non-traditionals and Millennials are not willing to be hazed or to enter jobs where they are unsure of an income.  Ron Wiese of Alberici pointed out to the contractors in the room that they keep their core crews working during slow times. In non-union areas, he said, there is a “helper” class of worker — essentially a pre-apprentice — who is assigned to a specific journeyman. If the journeyman works the helper works. In that way the new entrant into the industry is assured steady work and provided with mentoring.

CCDI “Art and Science Construction Career Day” 

On Thursday (Feb. 21) an “Art and Science Construction Career Day” was hosted at McCluer South High School in Ferguson by the Construction Career Development Initiative (CCDI). CCDI is a 501(c)3 organization which strives to bring diversity to the industry by mentoring and exposing minority/underrepresented and under employed men and women to career development in construction.

Students had the opportunity to visit over 20 tabletop exhibits presented by unions, technical schools, contractors, architects, engineers, and industry recruitment programs. The exhibit had a number of hands-on and interactive opportunities, including a virtual backhoe and welding machine, and tablet-based construction games.

St. Louis Chapter NARI

Also on Thursday, the St. Louis Chapter, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) hosted a panel discussion on workforce at their luncheon. The panel was organized and moderated by Paul Hamtil of Hamtil Construction. Participating were Jacob Lohse, principal for South Tech; Rupert Catizon, instructor, St. Louis Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Program; Jeremy Booker, carpentry instructor, Ranken Technical college; and Tom Finan, executive director, Construction Forum STL.

As with the ASA panel, the panelists encouraged the contractors in attendance to become engaged with their local schools. There was discussion during the question and answer period about the difference in communication styles with Millennials and non-traditional workers. Representatives of the Home Builders Association told about programs for engaging youth in the possibilities of construction careers.

A plumbing contractor told of visiting Ranken and letting students there know that in his remodeling and home repair business journeymen have guaranteed, year-round work. A nonunion remodeling contractor said that while she offers her workers salaried jobs with benefits that match union work she finds that young workers are more attracted to union positions. It was suggested that if her numbers were indeed competitive she would need to prepare illustrations to show potential hires.

St. Louis Chapter ASPE

The St. Louis Chapter, American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE) has been in a phenomenal rebuilding phase the last few months. Late last year chapter leadership told Construction Forum STL that their typical meetings attracted about eight people and asked for help in recruiting more and younger participants.

Vladimir Monroe of St. Louis Development Corporation speaks to the ASPE program on “Good Faith Efforts”.

Together the organizations grew the attendance from about 20 to over 40. Construction Forum hosted the programs at their offices. But when ASPE put together a panel of experts on “Good Faith Efforts” for last Friday (Feb. 22) the response blew the doors off the capacity of the CFSTL offices.  Steve Lewis, vice president of AGCMO generously stepped up and over 60 people were in attendance at the morning event at AGCMO’s training school on Knox Industrial Drive.

Speaking at the ASPE event were:

  • Amber Gooding, assistant airport director for business diversity development at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport
  • Shonnah Parades, manager of diversity programs, Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
  • Vladimir Monroe, director of minority business and compliance, St. Louis Development Corporation.
  • Jack Thomas, chief diversity officer for St. Louis County.

All four speakers made the point that their organizations are trying to set reasonable expectations. At the same time, they said, lick-and-a-promise approaches where estimators fire off bulk emails to MBEs a couple of days before bid date no longer cut it.

“We sit down with our engineering and try to find out what is reasonable (in terms of participation goals),” Jack Thomas said. But he said that engaging with M/WBEs does not consist of “sending an email in the middle of the night”.

MSD’s Shonnah Parades told the estimators that their organizations need to advertise in places where M/WBEs are the target audience and to engage with advocacy groups that can help them connect and build relationships. If a contractor is claiming that it made a good faith effort MSD will expect specifics of who they contacted and a justification of the steps they took to try to engage participation.

“This is a business development effort,” Lambert’s Amber Gooding said. She said that M/WBE contractors are, “turned off and offended” when it is obvious that the majority bidding contractor has made no effort to identify whether the scope of work is within the M/WBE’s qualifications.

Other suggestions included breaking large packages, particularly in the MEP area, into smaller units that would encourage participation and holding outreach meetings.

All of the agencies that presented to ASPE are tracking participation. Thomas, who is building a new program, is still waiting for a County Council appropriation on funding for a software package. Fran Lyle-Wiggins, an experienced compliance officer, just moved to Thomas’ staff from Bi-State Development.

Asked by attendees what happened to contractors who were determined to have tried to game the system, Thomas said that “bad actor” majority contractors may be compelled to “make whole” W/MBEs who should have been awarded work. MSD’s Paredes said that contractors who try to may be excluded from future bidding. Monroe said that since SLDC’s projects are associated with TIF money, in a worst-case scenario the developer could be denied their TIF credits, which could jeopardize the project’s finances.




About Tom Finan