Diversity in Construction – Table of Experts

Seven industry professionals recently sat down with the St. Louis Business Journal to discuss diversity in the construction industry. Hear what Howard Hayes, PARIC's Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, had to say at the Table of Experts:

What is the industry doing to create a more diverse workforce in construction in St. Louis?

Howard Hayes: I know there have been some efforts by the city to support the funding of programs such as the pre-apprenticeship program at MOKAN. We at PARIC believe more can be done through partnerships with organizations like the BUD program. It is important to assure programs like this have, to the best of our ability, the resources that they need in order to have cohorts graduating successfully. And in general, laboring in the trenches, there have been organizations for decades. But now I think the reality is more companies with major resources have rallied around them.

What do you see as the most significant challenges facing someone starting a new minority-owned subcontractor business?

Howard Hayes: And I would say financial management skills. A lot of times jobs are won or lost in the back office. Having properly trained personnel as well as having partners that understand that you are a growing entity and you may not have all of the answers perfectly day one is important. But with mentorships and an emphatic ear, you can accomplish quite a few things with new minority contractors.

What resources are there to help minority firms find job opportunities?

Howard Hayes: I’m also a member of the board, and it is similar to what we have in St. Louis with incubators growing technology companies. RUCC is serving as an incubator for minority construction firms. As the region has focused resources on those technology incubators, I would ask that they focus resources on construction incubators also. It is going to be important that we develop our own local based businesses to help build the growing number of construction projects in town.

Howard Hayes: There truly are those that believe there’s strength in numbers, and I would say support your local advocacy group, whether it’s the AGC, if that’s the fit for you, or MOKAN, if that’s the fit for you. But again, they will speak for you on the regional stage, and that is what is missing sometimes with the smaller contractors.

Howard Hayes: If managed properly. I would say one of the greatest resources for a minority contractor would be an enlightened and committed general contractor that understands your capacity and capability. You want to walk with them through today, tomorrow and into the future in terms of growing your business.

What assistance could the general contractor community provide a minority-owned subcontractor that would allow them to be more competitive and grow their business?

Howard Hayes: If you reviewed the directory of the AGC, many of those organizations have been around 100 years or more. We are lucky to have so many large firms in our region who have resources in terms of access to banking and union relationships. When minority contracting firms sit with general contractors, they should take the measure of each other and decide how they can help one another. We can play a more significant role in addressing this issue by working together. These large construction firms have evolved over many decades, but every one of them is built on relationships. If we want to accelerate the timetable for minority-owned firms, we have to develop these relationships and help these firms become more competitive by showing them what they need to do to grow their business.

Howard Hayes: We’re bringing in 10 minority contractors in the next two weeks and we’re going to have our entire leadership team present to them the PARIC model of doing business and how they can approach us for future opportunities. So itis access. It’s making sure that your plans and drawings are publicly displayed. Taking ads in minority newspapers, ensuring that the St. Louis Development Corp.’s plan room is used, which it’s designed to create access for minority businesses, making sure plans and drawings are with the advocacy organizations. But just having a very open and inclusive business model is one of the primary steps for general contractors.

Are the construction owners in the St. Louis marketplace answering the call, or are they demanding more accountability of themselves in their contractors?

Howard Hayes: The St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers, which represents many of the key owners we’ve been speaking on, has a diversity committee, and that committee develops white papers to move the owners forward in terms of the area of diversity and inclusion. I would say the AGC, with their diversity committee, is one of the leading voices on diversity and inclusion in the region. And so owners and their representatives more and more, they get it in this region.

What impact will the recent city of St. Louis, St. Louis County legislation have on the industry, diverse businesses and diverse workforce?

Howard Hayes: Those that run diversity programs for municipalities aren’t the enemy. If approached properly, they can be resources for the industry. And as of now, the City of St. Louis has added additional resources in the form of extra staff to their minority and inclusion program. And for the first time ever, St. Louis County I believe will have a new leader in the area of diversity and inclusion and compliance. So I see them as additional resources for the industry.

Howard, what can general contractors do to grow capability and capacity in the minority construction community?

Howard Hayes: You can mention the buzzwords “partnering,” “networking,” “matchmaking,” that type of thing. But at its core, it starts with leadership. Senior leadership at general contracting firms saying, “We are committed to diversity and inclusion. We will have a measurable plan. We will hold our team accountable.” It all begins with leadership making that commitment. And then from there, all kinds of successes can flow. It is going to take an investment from both sides, to realize the long-term value. This region needs minority contractors to help grow the market, and general contractors can offer minority contractors the support, and counsel to achieve sustained success in the industry.

What are the future challenges in continuing the area’s diversity efforts?

Howard Hayes: I would like to see a major foundation or a major corporation step forward and fund a regional initiative that would pull together the major universities, AGC, advocacy groups, municipal organizations, and come up with a plan for our minority and inclusive workforce going into the 21st century.

Read the full article in the St. Louis Business Journal