By Chuck Gremillion
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…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 713.843.3719.
C3 continues to build momentum as evidenced by two recent occurrences, starting with the announcement that Texas Children’s Hospital has specified that its new TCH-The Woodlands Campus and TCH-Feigin Center 18th Floor OB/GYN Renovation will be C3 projects. This means that all contractors working on them – every General Contractor and every Specialty Contractor – must be an Accredited C3 Employer or have received C3 Project Status designation (formerly called Conditional Status). Not only is this a big win for craft workers, C3, and a sustainable construction workforce, but contractors have also told me that it is a win for them as well because it ensures a level playing field for all when competing for work.
In addition, and very importantly, C3 recently received notification from the Internal Revenue Service that it is now a 501(c)(3) organization. We can now raise money to fund our activities which enable C3 to fulfill its mission.
These activities include working to develop craft training for those trades that do not currently provide it, working to improve craft training for trades that do, and the creation of curriculum in high schools, community colleges, and other education providers for those students interested in a career in construction.
C3 will establish an audit function to verify that workers are paid according to wage and hour laws, while also assuring that workers compensation insurance is provided and safety training is delivered.
Because C3 represents change in how the commercial construction industry conducts its business, there is a natural resistance because change is difficult. However, C3 represents positive progress that must occur if we are to attract young people seeking a career to the construction industry.
As the industry adapts, C3 gathers more and more momentum. There are now more than 30 Accredited C3 Employers, up from six just four months ago. However, C3 needs more general contractors and specialty contractors to become accredited in order to take control of the industry and its workforce. C3 also needs more forward-thinking owners who recognize that high-quality projects produce happy users and cost less to maintain.
Please help us add to our growing momentum. If your firm is not an Accredited C3 Employer, or you are an owner who has yet to investigate what C3 can bring to your project, please contact me via email at email@example.com or by phone at 713.843.3719.
Recently, I described the reasoning behind the creation of Construction Career Collaborative (C3) and attributed it to the fact that the construction industry has an unsustainable workforce. In that essay, I listed five different but related reasons how we got “into this mess.” Among those are a misclassification of craft workers as subcontractors, a movement away from craft training and safety training, a de-emphasis of vocational education in our high schools in an effort to prepare all students for college, a perception among young people that the construction industry is dirty and unsafe, and a flood of undocumented workers who work in the shadows with no recourse to address wage abuse resulting in downward pressure on wages. All of these reasons contribute to why young people are not attracted to an industry that formerly provided an excellent path to a middle class living.
So one might ask, “What is the solution to this problem?” For starters, the commercial construction industry must cease business practices that make it unattractive to prospective workforce candidates such as misclassification of its workers as contract employees. To be blunt, who wants to work in an industry that does not pay matching social security taxes, federal and state unemployment taxes, provide workers compensation insurance, or any form of employee benefits?
Further, many craft trades in the commercial construction industry do not provide formal craft training or safety training. We must UNITE as an industry to develop and deliver this training in order to attract and develop our most important resource – our people.
In addition, we must HELP our school districts redevelop vocational education once again for it sows the seeds of interest in the construction industry with high school students.
Then, we must CREATE a construction-focused curriculum within our community colleges that prepares young people for entry into our workforce.
We must do what all other healthy industries do to attract people to their workforce. We must stop misclassifying our craft workers, pay them properly, and teach them the skills that they need to be successful.
We have work to do, and it will require members of the commercial construction industry to JOIN together to solve this problem.
Construction Career Collaborative
Construction Industry Institute (CII)
Construction Users Roundtable (CURT)
National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)