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Agencies devise programs on public projects to help women, youth, minorities get jobs

COURTESY: POIC - The POIC pre-apprenticeship program is housed at the Northwest College of Construction, where trainees learn the basics of construction.At least 80 planned public projects worth nearly $7 billion will require 14,000 construction workers over the next several years, Metro, the regional government, learned from a 2018 study assessing the region's construction work force.

Metro, Worksystems Inc. and the city of Portland commissioned the Regional Workforce Market Study, which focused exclusively on public projects worth more than $15 million, to explore how to leverage public dollars to create job opportunities for people of color and women, and to better understand the challenges they face in the construction trades.

"It was a deeper dive into the experiences of diverse workers who are attempting to step into the sector," said Raahi Reddy, Metro's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program manager. "We know the Portland area is facing a huge shortage of construction workers. On top of that, we know that for women and people of color, the retention rates are 38% and 36%."

The study also highlighted some of the bullying and harassment that happens on job sites in an industry that traditionally has not been welcoming to people of color and women, she said.

"It's been that way for a long time, and it's just sort of accepted that that's construction. We know that if we want to impact retention rates, then we have to impact culture," Reddy said. "We lose about $10,000 worth of work force investment per apprentice who does not make it through the first year of their apprenticeship, so from the business case, it benefits us to make sure they finish their first year and make those investments go really far."

The market study is guiding 16 public agencies as they work together to develop tools and policies that create inclusive and promising career paths in construction. Community-based organizations, pre-apprenticeship training programs, industry groups, minority contractors and trade unions gave input to the work group based on their perspectives and experiences. The public agencies are expected to finalize a shared policy framework that will guide future projects this fall.

COURTESY: POIC - Trainees participating in POICs pre-apprenticeship program have helped build the organizations offices in Rockwood and an 8-foot-by-11-foot garden shed in partnership with Growing Gardens for Davis Elementary School, among other projects.Another part of Metro's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program initiatives is the Construction Career Pathways Project, through which it is partnering with other public agencies, the region's work force investment board, community-based organizations and labor groups. Reddy said Metro looked at similar programs in Seattle and Los Angeles, and Portland's effort has one significant difference.

"The difference in Portland that we're really proud of is that we started out with an alliance of multiple agencies first," she said. "This is really a very ambitious effort and that's what (the Construction Career Pathways Project) set out to do, to bring an alliance of agencies together to meet common goals."

Center for opportunity

The Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, established in North Portland in 1968, works with more than 1,000 at-risk teenagers and young adults each year and, in 2018, launched a new pre-apprenticeship program to complement its work through Rosemary Anderson High School and the Rosemary Anderson Transitions and Work Opportunities Training.

The center's pre-apprenticeship program is housed at the Northwest College of Construction, where trainees learn the basics of construction. Trainees already have completed a buildout of walls in the center's offices in Rockwood and a garden shed for Davis Elementary School.

Plans for the program gained momentum as the center's president and CEO, Joe McFerrin II, traveled around the country and heard repeated conversations about the need for more skilled workers and greater diversity within the trades.

In collaboration with NAMC-Oregon — the local affiliate of the National Association of Minority Contractors — the center formed an advisory council to help develop the program and to obtain funding from Worksystems Inc. The center also received funding from the Oregon Department of Education's Youth Development Council.

Lanya McClintock, the center's director of employment and training, said the Northwest College of Construction's donation of space for the program is significant, as is the support that the center receives from local business owners. Opportunities to help out include financial contributions and donations of tools and supplies. Site visits to local projects — ranging from residential remodels to large commercial and public construction projects — also are beneficial.

"Those kinds of experiences have been really great because it helps to inform them when they think about what path they want to take," she said, adding the students and trainees learn a great deal when people from different pathways to the industry share their experiences.

"Industry expertise is always good," McClintock said. "It helps the students and trainees understand the lay of the land with construction and the trades because they are new to the arena, and it helps us know how we can leverage our resources and improve our program."

Giving back

Gilbert Leon graduated from Portland Youth Builders 10 years ago and recently became a board member so he can share his experiences of being a Latino business owner. He started Bridgeport Interiors Inc., a Tigard full-service drywall company, in 2014.

"I told them I'd love to be on the board because, not only am I in the construction industry, but I'm a graduate, and I can relate to the students," Leon said. "Portland Youth Builders worked for me, and I'm sure it will work for a lot of other people, too."

Founded in 1995, Portland Youth Builders provides work force training, vocational education and leadership development services to more than 200 low-income people between the ages of 17 and 24 who have not completed high school. It relies on graduates like Leon to serve as mentors and examples that Latinos and other minorities can be successful business owners.

Female industry leaders such as Ali O'Neill, principal and project manager for O'Neill Construction Group Inc., encourage young women to explore careers in the trades through both their work and their volunteer service.

"I always feel like I can never say enough to encourage women to join construction," O'Neill said. "I find that mentoring and supporting other women and encouraging women to go into this dynamic field is really important to me."

O'Neill, who hires women-owned subcontracting companies whenever possible, serves as board treasurer for Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. Her company is involved with Metropolitan Alliance for Workforce Equity, Portland Youth Builders, the Asian-Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, Enhabit Portland and All Hands Raised.

Han-Mei Chiang, project manager for Hoffman Construction Co., also is a champion of diversity in the profession through workplace improvement initiatives and her leadership of the American Institute of Architects Oregon and Portland chapters.

"It's important to me because I think we are better-rounded as a profession if we have a well-rounded and diverse group of people," she said, adding she particularly enjoys her interactions with students. "They're full of excitement and they always want to know what the field is like. You spend an hour with them and you come out of there jazzed and want to do it again."

Melody Finnemore is a contract writer who regularly contributes to the Business Tribune, a sister publication of the Portland Tribune. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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