The late sportscaster and civic leader Bill Grigsby would spot a crane or a “Road Construction” sign and say “that’s a beauuutiful thing.”
This region is sprouting many “beauuutiful things.” They look different from past construction sites. Today’s sites feature iPads, cellphones and electronic plan rooms as well as hammers, drills and cranes. Workers blend high-tech with traditional skills, generating new challenges, increased efficiency, safety and quality. The faces on sites are also changing.
The average worker is older, thanks to demographics and increased emphasis on health and safety. That means many skilled workers are nearing retirement as construction rebounds from the 2008 recession, creating opportunities for young people.
One example is Lamont Curtis, an apprentice for Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 518. Another young man was given rides to work by contractor Eddy Whitley, Whitley Construction Co., and co-workers until he could afford his own car.
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Helping workers with transportation, child care and other challenges is critical. Contractors and unions are doing what they can, but workers need more support to succeed. Although change is hard, the construction industry is embracing this opportunity to diversify its workforce. Such efforts dovetail with the Kansas City Workforce Ordinance requiring that contractors on city-funded projects employ at least 10 percent minorities and 2 percent women. Recent reports show that overall, eligible projects are meeting those goals thanks to hard work by the industry and the city:
▪ Construction career fairs in 2015 and 2016 drew several hundred urban core residents to connect with apprenticeship programs and contractors, leading to hiring.
▪ The largest industry outreach program to middle and high school students, the National Institute for Construction Excellence, reaches more than 2,000 annually with nearly half minorities and more than a third girls.
▪ MAGIC (Mentoring a Girl in Construction) Camp provides dozens of high school girls exposure to construction career opportunities.
▪ “Build Your Career Days” at the Builders’ Training Center provide hands-on, construction apprenticeship exploration to more than 300 metro middle and high school youth annually.
▪ Kansas City East Patrol/Crime Lab project, built by JE Dunn/Alexander Mechanical Joint Venture, generated dozens of urban core worker and contractor opportunities, many of whom found further work on projects such as the Linwood YMCA.
▪ After organizing an industry workforce summit last year, the Labor-Management Council’s Construction Committee began working with contractors to place more apprentices, especially minorities and women.
For those out of school, the community and governments can guide them to available resources, including the Full Employment Council of Kansas City, BeYOUnion.com and the National Institute for Construction Excellence.
Bob Jacobi of Kansas City is executive director, Labor-Management Council of Greater Kansas City. This piece is written in cooperation with the Builders’ Association, Greater Kansas City Building and Construction Trades Council and St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council.