Building a Balanced Workforce

The College of Continuing Education and local companies work to boost the number of women and minorities in the construction industry.

This winter, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority announced that 20 percent of the construction work for the new Vikings stadium will go to women and minorities--with 11 percent of the construction contracts to go to women-owned firms and 9 percent to minority-owned businesses.

The College of Continuing Education and local companies work to boost the number of women and minorities in the construction industry.The group also set a "work force goal," calling for 32 percent of all project work hours to be performed by minorities and 6 percent to be performed by women, which is in line with the new county-specific hiring targets unveiled last spring by Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

These targets are designed to bring the demographics of the construction industry more closely in line with the overall labor force--which is becoming increasingly more diverse. 

And while the jobs are there, more work still needs to be done in attracting talented, qualified individuals to fill those roles. Says Peter Hilger, faculty member and internship adviser in CCE's Construction Management program, "Placing women and minorities into construction positions for the most part has not been a problem because they are so sought after."

The issue, Hilger says, is finding them. "[It's] a major challenge. Even at the high-school level, the predominance of interested students is white male [for industry mentorship]. We would love to have more women and minorities in our program, and want to use every possible means to attract them."

One of the best ways to draw top talent into the program--and then, by extension, into the workforce--is through scholarships. "As an industry, we will have major challenges meeting these very aggressive employment goals. So, we must use every tool in our toolbox to [recruit] these students...and scholarships are huge as a way to attract under-represented students to the [construction field]," says Hilger.

In the past year, the College has received two major endowments, one from local company PCL Construction ($100,000), and another ($50,000) from the local chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). Each of these will endow a generous scholarship fund. The PCL Scholarship fund is geared to help underrepresented groups, in particular women and minority students, become future leaders in the construction industry. And while the CFMA Scholarship is open to any student interested in the Construction Management program (major, minor, or area of emphasis), minorities and women are encouraged to apply.

The College of Continuing Education and local companies work to boost the number of women and minorities in the construction industry.In the end, these scholarships benefit not just the students receiving them, but the industry--and the economy as a whole. Which is why his company was more than pleased to fund a scholarship, says John Jensvold, director of project development at PCL Construction.

"When the recent economic downturn began, the construction industry was already concerned over the long-term availability of trained personnel. The recession just served to mask an issue that was already on everyone's minds just a few years ago. Our realization then is our realization again today--we need to actively grow the ranks of construction personnel at every level. Second, and just as important, we realize that women and minorities are going to play a key role in the long-term growth and health of our industry."

CFMA scholarship committee chair Mike Michelson agrees. "[This industry] is one where hard-working people can earn an excellent wage, gain valuable skills, and advance to higher levels of responsibilities. I've seen multiple examples of trades people become project superintendents, project managers, even construction company executives given the right mixture of experience, education, and motivation. [In the wake of] the recession, fewer people have opted to enter [construction]...CFMA recognizes the need for motivated and energetic workers, and we are determined to get the word out about career opportunities in the field."

It is a goal the College is happy to play a role in fulfilling. Says Dean Mary Nichols, "We are extremely proud to have such outstanding leaders in the industry partner with the College in this meaningful way."