On Thursday, Oct. 24, the Metro Council adopted a policy framework that lays the foundation for creating career pathways in construction for women and people of color in greater Portland.
The Construction Career Pathways framework establishes consistency among the region’s public agencies in their efforts to grow a diverse construction workforce. It asks public agencies to set goals for the percentage of total hours that women, apprentices and people of color should work on public projects at 14%, 20% and 25%, respectively.
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“We will work toward these goals over a period of seven years so we can build our success incrementally,” Metro’s Regional Impact program manager Sebrina Owens-Wilson told the Metro Council. “We can accomplish this by making sure that this is an industry workers are not only able to enter, but they're [also] able to stay and build a successful career.”
These goals build the demand for diverse workers.
“This program, I feel, really strikes at the heart of some of the actual barriers to economic equity,” said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen. “There are very few industries left where you can earn family-sustaining wages with benefits without a college degree.”
“When we open up access to construction careers to people who have historically been excluded from this area, then we're creating economic opportunity for individuals,” he said, “but we're also increasing resiliency for our whole region.”
More than a dozen supporters of the framework shared with the Metro Council stories that illustrate the life-changing benefits of construction careers.
Several construction workers spoke with pride about their financial independence, including a single mother who used to receive public assistance, a woman who experienced homelessness as a teenager, and a father of eight who inspired his two sons to build careers in construction.
“You have each given us a little bit of a window into how this will help move things forward,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson.
To ensure a supply of diverse workers, the Construction Careers Pathway framework calls on public agencies to invest in pre-apprenticeship training programs, such as Constructing Hope and Oregon Tradeswomen. Doing so would give these groups the funding they need to train more people and offer case management for up to five years, even when their alumni become apprentices.
Metro has committed to set aside $200,000 a year for the next five years – funding that could support pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training programs and community-based organizations that serve culturally diverse communities.
The agency plans to work with philanthropy and partner agencies to leverage the public investment as a part of a broader initiative to recruit and retain women and people of color.
The framework calls on public agencies to require anti-harassment training on construction work sites to shift hostile work environments.
To keep partners accountable, agencies that sign on to this policy would come together once a quarter to track progress, work through problems, and create strategies about where to make more investments. The framework also encourages the use of workforce agreements on large projects as a vehicle for implementing diversity hiring goals.
The Metro Council’s adoption of this policy framework culminates an effort that began three years ago with the agency’s strategic plan to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
As part of that work, Metro and the City of Portland commissioned a study in 2018 that “made the case for why we needed a regional approach to growing a diverse construction workforce,” said Raahi Reddy, who directs Metro’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program. “And it laid out very clearly why retention rates are so low among people of color and women in this industry.”
Members of the public owners workgroup created the framework in partnership with a variety of stakeholders, including trade unions, minority contractors and industry groups.
Thirty seven groups, ranging from pre-apprenticeship training programs to trade unions and construction firms, signed a pledge to support this work.
“As more public agencies in the region join this effort now that we've got an initial go, each agency's individual workforce development efforts are better positioned to succeed in cultivating a labor pool that strengthens their community and reflects the populations they serve,” Peterson said.
This work “becomes even more important as we [look to] pass the Metro parks and open space bond measure that's coming up, and also the work that we're doing around a very large transportation package for 2020,” she said. “All of these things, combined with all of the other jurisdictions and agencies, make for quite a large commitment in this arena.”
Learn more about Metro's Construction Career Pathways.