To ensure a more diverse workforce, leaders in the construction industry are advocating increased outreach to the pipeline of incoming young workers.
At the recent New York Building Congress’ diversity panel, construction companies gathered to hear from industry leaders about fostering a more diverse workforce.
From politicians to city agency heads, the speakers stressed that reaching out to the future generation would further benefit the industry’s growth in diversity.
“It’s not about equal pay for equal work, it’s about lack of access to opportunities and lack of access to promotion and retention,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.
“If we are really going to ensure equality, we must do more to not only ensure that women are paid the same, but are also given the same opportunities for advancement.”
According to Ronnie Hakim, the managing director for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency’s 70,000 employees are 68 percent minority and 18 percent women.
To improve these numbers, the panel speakers agreed that the best option is influencing the pipeline of the younger, more diverse generation who will soon enter the workforce.
Ana Barrio, the acting commissioner for the city’s Department of Design and Construction, said her agency has connected with over 2,000 public school students, 35 schools, and 50 organizations to reach out to youth and expose them to construction work early on.
“This is the way to start, to start at an early age, to leave an impression on our young future professionals that there is a career in construction and engineering,” Barrio said.
“We have seen that exposing them to this type of education, that they come back and hopefully they’ll continue to come and work at DDC, or any other major organization.”
And the influence goes beyond schooling as the General Contractors Association of New York offers many internships and boasts a 98 percent retention rate with a diverse enrollment.
“By having our interns work with us in the summers in the field, understand exactly what the life is going to be like, they all came back to get job offers with us,” Denise Richardson, GCA’s executive director said.
But Richardson also warned those trying to enter the industry of the great demand the job has on your personal life.
“The work hours on your job may be seven to three, but that really means seven to seven, if…you got to get out of there at three o’clock because you have child care issues or something, your role in the industry is going to be different,” Richardson said.
“You can’t come to the industry with the expectation of, ‘I’m going to leave my job every day at three o’clock, but why aren’t I being promoted to being a foreman, a senior project manager?’”
“I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds mean and people don’t want to hear it, but that is the life you’re signing up to,” she added.
“But it is enormously rewarding. Not a lot of people can walk around and say, ‘I built the Second Avenue Subway, I built the World Trade Center, I worked on the new PATH station.’”
But Barrio also warned that there will be a shortage of professionals in the industry and that companies needed to do more with student outreach.
Hakim added that another challenge was the falling enrollment numbers with technical high schools that also translates to a smaller pool of qualified workers in the future. But to ensure diversity through the younger workforce, Hakim said it’s up to the companies to make these connections and help change the face of the industry.
“We are going to need labor, we are going to need trained tradesmen and women,” Hakim argued.
“I would challenge us all to try to think about how you can use the resources in your firm to connect with some of these schools and offer these opportunities.”