ConstructionDiversityFeature

Harnessing the Full Potential of Our Workforce

Maja Rosenquist

By Maja Rosenquist, senior vice president, Mortenson.

Over the last decade, Colorado’s thriving economy has been a boon for development across the state. If you’re a talented builder, the work is there. That is, if you can find the labor. The Associated General Contractors of America’s Colorado 2020 Outlook Survey found that 88 percent of respondents are having a hard time filling some or all positions, both salaried and craft. And most of them (52%) expect the issue to persist.

To meet demand, as an industry, we need to create a more robust construction workforce pipeline. That means examining – and addressing – why we’re only tapping into roughly half of the available workforce. Despite making up 47 percent of workers in the U.S., women are still vastly underrepresented in construction, with just 1.5 percent of women working in this field.

Some of the biggest challenges we face as an industry – not least of all our massive labor shortage – can be solved by harnessing the full potential of our workforce. But it won’t happen alone. We all have to take a more active role in building an equitable, diverse and inclusive workforce. Here are some of the ways we can do that:

More Progressive Hiring Practices & Pipeline Development

Getting more women into the industry starts with – unsurprisingly – a concerted effort to hire more women. That means
getting out into the community and helping more women and girls see the building industry as a viable option. Mortenson is actively working to create a more diverse and equitable pipeline, including supporting Transportation & Construction Girl, an organization dedicated to showing young women their opportunities in our industry; working with the construction management programs at our state universities to encourage a management pipeline that looks more like the communities we serve; and partnering with the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility to establish apprenticeship programs to ensure women are ready to engage in the industry and community upon completing their time with the correctional system. It’s working. Right now, women make up 34 percent of Mortenson’s total workforce – more than triple the industry average of 9.9 percent – and nearly 10 percent of our craftworkers.

The focus on hiring also needs to extend to our subcontractors – and not just when it’s mandated. Mortenson has a standing commitment to award 15 percent of all subcontracts to small, minority and women-owned businesses, including all private work. We also regularly host open houses to form relationships with new S/M/WBE partners.

Building a More Supportive Work Environment

Once women join the industry, the work environment we create for them matters. This is still a male-dominated industry, and right now, there often aren’t a lot of other women on the job site. It’s important to recognize the challenges that creates and look for ways to provide a network of support. In 2016, Mortenson’s Denver operations group formed the Women in Construction (WIC) affinity group to raise awareness for the issues women in construction face, offer educational programs, and build a system of support throughout our community. This group brings together both men and women at Mortenson to tackle subjects like
unconscious bias, differences in communication styles and micro-inequities. These conversations are already changing attitudes in the workplace for the better.

During the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)’s annual WIC Week, we host our own local event, inviting our women trade partners, clients and the community to gather in celebration of the growing role of women in the construction industry and to raise awareness for the opportunities available to them. Since initiating these efforts, we have seen a measurable increase in women in both operations and craft roles at Mortenson and – importantly – a significant drop in turnover.

Creating a Path to Parity

Hiring more women is just one part of the equation. To make a real difference and keep talented women in the pipeline, the industry must also support parity – from the office to the field. There needs to be clearer opportunities for meaningful careers in this industry for both men and women.

Feedback from our quarterly WIC events indicated that unless a woman came into a craft role with a particular expertise, they were often relegated to the “light” jobsite work such as sweeping, making it harder to get the experience necessary to use various other tools on site and gain the skills necessary to reach higher-paying craft jobs. This led to the creation of Women’s Skills Night, which takes attendees through the first section of the construction apprenticeship program, providing women with essential skills to advance their careers in the industry. Hosted quarterly, these events have been attended by 90% of women laborers who work on Mortenson projects. More advanced courses are currently being rolled out this year.

Today, women serve vital functions across all facets of Mortenson’s business – from project engineers to superintendents and laborers to electricians. There is still more work to be done. We have a long way to go to reaching equity and parity, but we’re trying. Because we know the results for our company and our industry are more than worth the effort.

Photos courtesy of Mortenson

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