Achieving Critical Mass

Bryant Black

Director, Workforce Development
Greater Houston Partnership

It has been almost a year since I became the executive director of Construction Career Collaborative (C3). While I have learned a great deal during that short period of time, my biggest take away is that everyone with whom I have spoken agrees that the issue of creating a sustainable craft workforce is critical to the future of the commercial construction industry and all of those connected to it. For many trades, the complexity of this issue is the challenge (lack of craft & safety training, misclassification of craft workers as subcontractors thereby avoiding payment of overtime and payroll taxes such as social security, and not providing employee benefits or workers’ compensation insurance coverage, all in the pursuit of low bid and covered up by a seeming limitless supply of undocumented workers who labor in the shadows, which depresses wages). All of which is why C3 needs the leadership and support of a critical mass of organizations in the A/E/C industry in order overcome it. We all must recognize that there is no quick resolution to a workforce problem that has been compounding itself for more than 30 years, which will require perseverance and sheer numbers of people who believe in the cause to correct it.

My concern is that many in the industry either do not believe that the root causes of this problem can be corrected, or they have decided to stand by and take a wait-and-see attitude while “others” address the problem, which is what we cannot afford. In order to generate the critical mass of organizations required to overcome the issues that are the root causes of this problem, we need more people and organizations to leave the sidelines and become involved in order to tip momentum in favor of a sustainable workforce.

We do have a strategy to solve this problem. It is owner driven and specifies that each contractor working on a project…

  • Pay their craft workers by the hour with those craft workers being W-2 earners who do not receive a 1099.
  • Deduct and match employment taxes according to the law.
  • Provide Workers’ Compensation Insurance as required by the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act.
  • Participate in the auditing of hourly payroll practices as described above.
  • Provide OSHA 30-Hour Training for their field supervisors.
  • Provide OSHA 10-Hour Training for their craft workers.
  • Support Safety Refresher Training for OSHA 10 & 30.
  • Support craft training and the future development of craft training standards.

The impact of “looking the other way” is that building maintenance costs continue to increase because of poor craftsmanship and lower-quality buildings resulting from a lack of craft training. In addition, the problem perpetuates itself because the craft workforce is aging and the industry is unable to attract young people to it because, candidly, what young person wants to begin a career in an industry that does not pay properly, does not provide Workers’ Compensation Insurance and does not train or provide the employee benefits that make a career attractive. To add to the problem, the commercial construction industry is competing with other industries that check all of these boxes.

During the last year, C3 has grown to include 52 contractors, whom we call Accredited Employers, and 8 Project Participants. Included among our Accredited Employers are nine general contractors and 43 specialty contractors, firms of all sizes. In addition, we launched our first two non-beta C3 projects, Texas Children’s Hospital – The Woodlands Campus and the 18th-Floor Renovation of the Feigin Building at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, a project that was completed last month. These are small steps that are moving us forward, but C3 needs to take bigger steps in order to make the industry attractive once again to young adults. We also need for those companies who are currently engaged with C3 to persevere, to continue their support and not become discouraged. In effect, C3 is changing the culture of an industry, which takes time.

In the next few months, C3 will be hosting Town Hall Meetings to inform and educate contractors, owners, and design professionals of the complexity of this problem and how C3 seeks to solve it in order to create a sustainable workforce once again. At that time, we will seek to enlist support and involvement in the C3 cause. Just as it takes a village to educate a child, it takes an industry to solve this problem. We hope you will work with C3 to do so.

Please contact me via email at [email protected] or by phone at 713.843.3719.

Chuck Gremillion

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