The Voice for the St. Louis Construction Industry

 
 
Category archive

Opinion

Diversity Inclusion in Construction is More Than a Construction Problem

in Opinion

By Scott Wilson

Achieving meaningful diversity has risen to the top of the St. Louis area construction industry’s agenda, and nowhere was that more evident than at a recent construction industry event, where more than 450 people representing trade associations, contractors, subcontractors, unions, project owners, educators and activists discussed the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead  locally.  All agreed that a diverse industry is a powerful goal that brings more economic opportunities to women and minorities and creates a broader, more competitive base of employees, contractors and subcontractors.  But the advance of technology in construction today requires a more highly trained workforce than ever before.  This means society must better prepare disadvantaged students and entrepreneurs to enter and succeed in construction than ever before.

Construction today is commonly viewed by the public as an unsophisticated industry.  The fact is there are only skilled workers in construction.  Today’s journeyman carpenters, plumbers,  electricians, equipment operators, laborers and others on the job site are professionals, having completed three to five years of training and apprenticeship experience.  Technological advances touch virtually every job in construction today.

Further, today’s construction skills training requires basic reading and mathematics skills that exceed what many disadvantaged students are bringing with them to high school.  At the St. Louis Construction Careers Center (CCC), the average high school age student entering the program is 3-4 grade years behind where they should be in reading and math skills, and thus require taking remedial reading and math courses before proceeding into technical training.  In fact, most CCC students do not graduate, and of those that do, most leave the construction field altogether in just a few years.

On the minority subcontractor front, many women and minority construction entrepreneurs entering the construction field have little business experience to support their companies.  Their focus on daily job site operations takes away from learning proper fiscal management and risk management.  This usually leads to a premature demise of these businesses and lingering feelings of frustration and mistrust.

Thankfully, there are a number of construction industry efforts underway to help address the diversity problem, although they are all done at the industry’s expense.  Most construction projects today now feature a voluntary (or mandatory) set of goals designed to promote inclusiveness and diversity.  The contractors on these projects have turned to on-the-job training of workers and mentoring of minority subcontractors to achieve these goals.  In the past it was up to the general contractor or construction manager to make this happen, and to pay the tab for getting it done.

Now it is time for the owners of projects to step up and help pay for diversity inclusion costs.  And in a bigger way, it is time for the public to understand that diversity inclusion is not just a construction industry problem – it is a community-wide problem.  Societal problems run deeper than what the construction industry alone can address.  Society must also realize that today’s
construction industry is more technology driven and sophisticated than in the past.

As the post-Ferguson public dialogue seeks long term solutions to the social and economic issues facing minorities in our community, construction wants to be at the table to do our part.  But we can’t do it alone.

Scott Wilson is Chief Executive Officer of S. M. Wilson & Co.  He received the 2009 ‘Diversity Champion Award’ by the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers in recognition of his extensive efforts to promote diversity in the local construction industry. The Minority Contractors Association of St. Louis recruited Scott to serve on its first Executive Committee. He served as chairman of the Regional Business Council Diversity Committee, where he was instrumental in securing funding for the Career Coaching Program.

Federal Contractors Get Slammed Again Regarding New Disclosure Provision

in Opinion

By Terry Potter, Partner – Husch Blackwell, LLP

It seems that every time we turn around there is another Executive Order placing additional burdens on federal contractors.  This time it is the Fair Play and Safe Workplace Executive Order which President Obama signed on July 31.  Under this new Executive Order, before prospective contractors can obtain a contract with the federal government, they must disclose labor law violations from the past three years encompassing fourteen different federal statutes and equivalent state laws.

The contracting officers must take into account these violations in the issuance of such contracts.  However, the standards for such review have yet to be established.  Indeed, each agency will have to designate a
senior official as a “labor compliance advisor” to provide guidance on whether the contractor’s actions rise to the level of a “lack of integrity or business ethics.”  These are rather broadly stated standards which ultimately will likely result in a great deal of inconsistency and abuse.

What is especially concerning in this situation is that the Executive Order states that companies with workplace violations are more likely to encounter performance problems, and so the Executive Order is being issued
to improve the efficiency of federal contracting resulting in a greater return on federal tax dollars.  Well, if performance is really the issue then that should be the topic of discussion, not setting up a whole new level of bureaucracy.  In my experience, I have never known a contracting officer who was not well aware of any ongoing investigations regarding potential labor law violations with their contractors.  Quite frankly, they do a very effective job of being the watchdog over those situations.

Moreover, hidden away in the middle of this Executive Order is a very odd inclusion which specifies that companies with federal contracts of $1 million or more may not require their employees to enter into pre-dispute
arbitration agreements arising out of Title VII or from torts related to sexual assault or harassment.  The recent decisions by the Supreme Court clearly indicate support for the arbitration process over burdening the courts with additional matters that are best handled on a private basis through an arbitration procedure in the workplace.  That would be an efficient use of federal tax dollars.  So if your purpose is to save tax dollars, this provision runs totally counter to that goal.

The final key provision of the Executive Order provides that employees shall receive information about their paychecks (hours worked, overtime and deductions) which normally is specified under state law in any event, so this inclusion is of very limited value, especially for federal contractors who have to provide certified payrolls on a regular basis.

The various agencies will have to spend a lot of time and effort on this Executive Order as it places substantial burdens on them in investigating a myriad of potential violations that could potentially effect the contracting company’s ability to obtain a contract to ensure that due process and fair play take place with respect to each of the contractors.  As these standards develop we will keep you informed, but it is obviously going to be a long, slow process.

Go to Top