Did you know women make up less than 9% of the workforce in construction?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an even lower figure for Black Americans. Only 6% of all construction talent is Black – a number that’s remained relatively unchanged for a quarter of a century.
This reality is hard to swallow. But it’s one that can be changed. Every construction team can and should play a key role in ensuring a diverse and representative future for historically underrepresented communities.
For the last couple of years, diversity has remained a hot topic industrywide. Whether it’s business owners discussing future plans or managers looking to fill the ever-increasing labor gap, broadening the hiring pool makes a positive impact across all areas of a construction company.
By opting for diversity, you’re opening up your construction business to a much wider talent pool. As a consequence, you’ll have a better chance of getting the right candidate in the door for the right role.
It’s about much more than that, too. Working toward equality and inclusivity builds better places to work and stronger communities to live in. It’s something many want to do – but might not know where to begin.
To explore this, Buildertrend talked with Paul Robinson, founder of ConstructReach. This leading workforce development initiative builds reachable opportunities. ConstructReach’s aim is to empower and diversify the entire industry.
Here’s what this industry expert had to say:
Q: The labor shortage is here – but it seems like such a large issue. Is there anything one contractor can personally do to start combatting it?
We have to start celebrating the certificate as much as the degree. It’s time to stop positioning construction or an alternative route to higher education as a failed-into option.
It happens in a very multifaceted way, starting with closing the gap between education and industry. We’re playing the long game here, so that begins at a very young age. Construction teams should get in front of youth early and often to help them understand what their options are. Meet young people where they are. Leverage social media to raise awareness about what makes you unique as a company, what type of projects you work on, and be active in the community.
When you get engaged at a community level that begins to create relationships that help people understand who you are as a company. Conversations begin to take place, and a pipeline is developed with exposure to the industry.
Q: What age should this type of exposure start?
The sooner, the better. It’s not just about trying to create awareness and exposure for those in the process of transitioning into adulthood. Start at elementary.
What could be considered small to an employer – even taking an initial step to develop a relationship with one school – that can be a big deal.
Q: In terms of creating more diverse representation in the industry, how do construction companies engage these communities?
I go back to developing very intentional relationships and supporting these community.
From a communal standpoint, whether it’s partnering with nonprofits or wherever you have an opportunity to support, you’re building brand awareness. But this action has an even greater dovetailing effect.
When you think of the three pillars where you see minority communities lacking equality – education, healthcare, jobs – the construction industry has to understand they are one of the three core foundational elements. That’s a third. You have the chance to make a big impact!
Think of it this way … If I come into a career that pays well and changes my economic position, that influences my access to education and ability to pay for good healthcare. You allow economic development that changes not only that person but families and communities too. It starts with one hire and builds from there.
Q: It’s one thing to attract diverse talent. How do you retain it as well?
A lot of hires make decisions on how long they want to stay with a company in the first 30, 60 to 90 days. The intentionality that you showcase when you onboard new talent is very important. Younger employees are transitioning into adulthood, so construction owners should consider how they can best set them up for success in life now and later.
A lot of times that comes through relationships and context, especially with a diverse demographic. You may do things that mean well that could be non-inclusive or offensive if you don’t act with intention.
Show them what their greater career path looks like. Can they see themselves in decision-making positions? Can they go above entry level? If they don’t see themselves outside of that first role, they form the conclusion, “There is only so high I can go.”
Q: What improvements are already being made toward greater inclusivity?
ConstructReach has gotten the chance to start a campaign called, “I Built This.” We work with some of our clients in the industry and help their companies to become more community oriented.
Students from neighboring school districts and workforce development programs gather with general contractors and other construction professionals. While together, they take part in hands-on activities and informative discussions about the future of construction and access to scholarships, internships and career opportunities
We measure their perception of the industry – and 85% to 90% leave with a greater understanding. Through this, we’re creating alignment between educators, industry stakeholders and meeting young people where they are. This all provides a pathway to employment, and we are beginning to see the positive results.
Q: Beyond just filling a labor gap, why is it imperative construction embrace a more diverse workforce?
When you think about how large of a sector construction is — when you employ that many people – you want to make sure it’s representative of the working demographic.
Construction has a huge market share and is a leading player in the economic development of our country. That means our industry has the power to address and solve many of the issues permeating society right now.