The time is now for diversity, equity in the construction industry
Throughout the Portland metro area, companies are beefing up their efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the construction industry.
While there are still significant gains to be made, some steps taken so far show positive results.
O'Neill Walsh Community Builders (OWCB), a partnership of O'Neill Construction Group and Walsh Construction Co., is led by two women and a person of color, and has a history of partnering with and mentoring COBID-certified companies.
Among its current projects is the Meyer Memorial Trust headquarters, a 20,000-square-foot building in North Portland's Albina District that will feature workspace for 50 employees, a library, educational garden and meeting spaces for nonprofits, community leaders and other organizations to collaborate.
"We're just finishing, and we've seen a lot of great progress on this particular project. I know there is more to do, but it can be a bellwether for what is happening," said Walsh, a managing partner of OWCB and project manager and community outreach director for Walsh Construction Co. "It's a nice project to walk around and be surrounded by women in positions of leadership, people of color, and a diverse workforce. It's a nice job site to spend time on for those reasons."
Maurice Rahming, co-founder and co-owner of O'Neill Construction Group and OWCB managing partner, said another change is becoming more prominent on job sites. Historically, the logos of the general contractor and the larger subcontractors were visible on signs around projects. OWCB encourages a complete listing of all subcontractors, including identifying COBID-certified firms and the pre-apprenticeship programs involved in the project.
"If you are walking by, you can see that it's a minority-owned company or a woman-owned company that is doing the landscaping, the electrical work or other work, and they get some recognition and advertising," he said.
Another strategy to increase diversity in the construction workforce is to educate young people about potential career opportunities in the trades. OWCB has partnered with Benson High School's Career & Technical Education program and, in collaboration with the Benson teachers, one of OWCB's project engineers works in the classroom each week to build relationships with the students and talk with them about opportunities. Pre-apprenticeship programs such as Constructing Hope, Oregon Tradeswomen Inc., Portland Youth Builders, and the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center/Rosemary Anderson High School are just some of the options presented by OWCB.
Skanska Building USA's Portland office has a dedicated Diversity Committee focused on engaging COBID-certified companies and promoting vendor and supplier diversity inside and outside the company. For more than a decade, the company has hosted free classes for COBID companies through its Construction Management Building Blocks (CMBB) program. The committee coordinates and presents the series twice a year.
The CMBB construction management accelerator program covers topics such as preconstruction, prequalification, and planning for a recession. Participants also have an opportunity to network with industry experts and, to date, nearly 200 DBE/MWESB subcontractors have graduated from the program.
Skanska's project teams provide pre-bid meetings specifically for COBID companies, including introductions to trade partners and large sub-primes for lower-tier contracting opportunities. Its project managers, accountants and administrators offer one-on-one mentoring and counsel to COBID firms in areas such as safety, payment requests, change orders, logistics and back-office administration.
"This is a unique, teachable moment for all of us," said Tim Johnson, executive vice president and general manager. "As we reflect on the social unrest facing our nation, the pain of our Black colleagues and Black community, and the ugliness of racism plaguing our society, we must act to create change. We must move into action now to bring equity into everything we do in our daily lives and on our job sites."
Pence Construction has several diversity initiatives in place and recently established its Diversity in Leadership Fund, a scholarship that will fund underrepresented students of color who want to pursue a degree in construction engineering management at Oregon State University.
"People of color are underrepresented in the commercial construction industry here in Oregon. We believe the industry demographics should, at the very least, represent the area it serves," said Principal Paul Schulz. "Additionally, there is tremendous potential for high-wage employment in construction. A critical way to increase opportunities for underrepresented people of color in the industry is to create a leadership cadre who can grow participation organically."
Pence is partnering with Rosemary Anderson High School to provide marketing and support for students in the scholarship program. Joe McFerrin II, the school's president and CEO, said the scholarship would help create career pathways in construction for young people who historically have been excluded.
"This opportunity is specifically created to prepare students to take on top leadership roles within construction companies small and large, and potentially start a company of their own," he said. "It is my hope that other companies in the industry follow Pence's lead."
According to a 2018 report released by Metro, women made up just 4 percent of the 23,000 people working in the Portland metro area's non-residential construction workforce and minorities made up 20 percent. Metro is striving to increase those numbers through its Construction Career Pathways Project, which brings regional stakeholders together to identify barriers to women and people of color and provide career options from the pre-apprentice and apprentice to journeyman levels.
The Metro Council got good news in late July when Nate McCoy, executive director of the National Association of Minority Contractors-Oregon presented the Equity Report on the Oregon Convention Center Renovation Project. Completed in September 2019, the project resulted in 51 percent utilization of total contract dollars awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses that are COBID certified.
Of the hours worked on the project, 40 percent were completed by people of color. Of the total dollars paid to subcontractors, 54% were awarded to majority Black-owned businesses. With a timeline of 13 months, the renovation project was completed on time, on budget and delivered an average contract amount of $2.6 million going to certified MBE firms, according to the Equity Report.
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