New Recruits: IMPACT Addresses Employing Women and People of Color

By Travis Rains

If the contract glazing industry wants to meet workforce shortages, now’s the time to tap into a previously unreached employee market—women and people of color. That was a discussion topic during the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust’s (IMPACT) 2022 conference, which took place in late February. Panelists included Vicki O’Leary, director of diversity/general organizer at IMPACT; Heather Kurtenbach, business agent with Iron Workers Local 86 Seattle; Ariane Hegewisch, senior research fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research; Mike Anderson, business manager with Iron Workers Local 46L; and James Owens, training and grant specialist for Iron Workers International, and a member of Iron Workers Local 86 Seattle. While hiring opportunities are available, presenters pointed out that getting women and people of color in the door is only half the battle. Retaining those workers is equally essential.

Combatting Workforce Shortage

Session moderator Pete Hayes of Red Cedar Steel said the construction industry has “basically ignored” women and people of color when recruiting. With a workforce shortage in the millions, Hayes said industry leaders are looking for ways to fill those positions.

“We want to open those doors,” he said. “And more importantly for trades and the iron-workers, to have a broader range of people, increase our pool of recruits for our apprenticeship programs and allow more opportunities for these workers in these high-paying positions.”

Owens said the discussion around recruiting and retaining these groups is happening nationwide, and registered apprenticeships are one of the most effective tools available to accomplish that mission.

Owens also addressed opportunities for pre-apprenticeship programs and associated grant funding that supplements and supports such programs. Potential apprentices go through three to four weeks in training with direct entry into apprenticeships upon completion of these programs. Then there are the supportive services, such as workforce development and the National Urban League, with which apprenticeship programs can partner.

Relaying Industry Opportunities

Kurtenbach talked about a 16-week pre-apprenticeship program at the women’s correctional facility in Washington State. Those eligible for the Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching (TRAC) must be interviewed, close to their release date, and infraction free, among other requirements.

“We’ve had such success with these women that we’ve changed our apprenticeship standards, so they don’t have to wait until the next evaluation day, a month or two [later],” Kurtenbach said. “Once these women are out, they need to work right away [because that] cuts out the recidivism rate.”

Anderson said people want to work, but improving the workforce won’t happen without reaching into those prospective employee pools. Anderson said, for example, some direct entry programs provide women and people of color with the necessary skills to have a career and not just a job. He also mentioned outreach efforts, such as those at churches and high schools, which build relationships within the community.

Retention

But attracting new workers remains only half the battle; keeping them is the other. Anderson said baby boomers and Generation X likely have family members employed in the trades to answer questions. But that isn’t necessarily the case for younger generations.

“Who do they turn to?” Anderson suggested connecting that person with a seasoned veteran of the job, adding that mentors can fill that role of a knowledgeable family member. “If somebody feels excluded from the project, they’re not going to buy into it. If somebody feels included, they buy in and stay longer, elevating the retention level.”

Hegewisch said in the past five years, 100,000 women, many of color, have joined the construction industry. However, she said there is too much focus on bringing them in and not enough on keeping them there; about half say they’re thinking about leaving.

Hegewisch said a recent survey of 2,600 tradeswomen found that most respondents feel they are treated equally, but a third said they are not treated equally regarding advancement. A quarter said they don’t feel they are treated equally regarding layoffs.

“I think we need to focus there because it drives women out,” she said. “Almost three in 10 never get the right equipment, the right-sized gloves. That’s not only a health and safety issue; it’s a slap in the face.”

Women in the industry also feel that they are held to higher standards while still facing additional challenges because of the cost of childcare. O’Leary said childcare during the pandemic rose 41%, with families spending up to 20% of their salaries on childcare.

“That is something that we need to work on and figure out,” she said.

The panel recommended mitigation options for issues that included additional anti-harassment and mentorship training for supervisors and possibly providing on-site childcare.

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