Making space for Blacks and women in construction

Construction for Women

 

By DIANE XAVIER

The Dallas Examiner

 

It’s not just a man’s world anymore. Historically, women have been known to receive lesser salaries and leadership roles than men in jobs. However, there’s been a recent push to increase the opportunities and pay for low wage workers. Additionally, and a group of local organizations hope to help minority women achieve that goal with its course work and class called Construction Training for Women, sponsored by Dallas College, the Regional Black Contractors Association and Southern Dallas Thrives.

“We actually have a partnership with the United Way and it’s a part of the Southern Dallas Thrives initiative to encourage partnership with Dallas College and to bring in more women in the construction space,” RBCA President and CEO Kimberly Shaw explained. “I think that as we evolve in our nation, this kind of gender role thing is being thrown out the window because women can do it too. Construction is a wonderful career.

“Again, it’s not just hammer and nail, there is that as well, but there’s the beauty of building with your hands and other facets of construction. There’s project management, there’s training and safety training and women that can run the office and make sure that they know again that project management feeds everybody and everyone knows where they’re supposed to be at in managing a job. I’ve seen women that are flying concrete. I’ve seen women working the freight elevators, the whole east elevators and just contributing their value to the project. But it’s not just the man’s world.”

The course is open for woman 18 years old or older that can pass a criminal background check. The training program will be held at the Innovation Center of Dallas College Center, located at 4315 S. Lancaster Road, across from the VA Hospital.

“It’s a great location and it’s easily accessible,” she said. “The rail line and the bus line are close by and so it makes it very convenient for people in that zip code to access the location.”

She decided that construction was where she wanted to focus her efforts because it has been a hidden market.

“This role came about when I was doing some business development for a woman who started up a traffic control company called Eagle Barricade,” Shaw said. The company is still around today, and when I went into business development for her, I had no idea about the construction industry at all. I just learned and started driving around to different construction trailers and knocking on the door and seeing if they wanted to buy the product. I started to just educate myself more and more in the construction industry. To be a good salesperson you have  to know your product. Know your customers in your industry. And so I did just that and getting into more construction at working circles. I came across RBCA, and I met our Chairman, John Proctor. The rest is history.”

 

The RBCA

Shaw said RBCA was a good fit for the course because the nonprofit advocacy association advocates and lobbies for the growth and development of Black businesses in the construction industry.

“We’re a membership association, so when you join our association, we’re definitely looking to grow your company and grow your business,” she said. “We connect the contractors to the contracts that are available. We work with a lot of our elected officials and the people that make decisions within the companies, so that we can talk to them about the disparity and the lack of utilization of Black contractors or Black business in general.

“And the reason I say Black business in general is because construction, while it is a very niche focus market, there are so many jobs that are offered in the construction industry and there’s so many different jobs that can come out of construction because it sounds like it is just hammer and nail, but it is very broad. So we just say Black business in general, but part of the RBCA is that we just develop and really nurture these relationships with decision makers.”

Shaw said the end goal is to close the gap on disparity when it comes to Black contractors.

“We want to know how many Black contractors and how many Black businesses are working or getting paid, especially with taxpayer dollars with these projects that are being funded,” she said. “We also team build, and so if you’re a small business that has not had the experience, we work with other larger firms, construction firms to help them introduce some of our other members, build those relationships, build mentor/protégé, long-lasting relationships.”

 

The SDT initiative

Southern Dallas Thrives is a new initiative that fits well into the program because it supports women entering and advancing in the workforce. In particular, in the Southern sector where women are significantly impacted and have difficulties in accessing the workforce, according to its representatives.

Created in 2021, the program is on a mission to offer training programs to 550 women in Southern Dallas in the skills necessary for jobs in hospitality, sales, marketing, manufacturing and logistics within its first three years.

With a goal of filling more than 42,000 jobs in the area, the program will also offer social services like housing assistance and access to child care.

 

The gap for BOBs

There are many reasons that Black contractors are lagging behind when it comes to getting and receiving work and projects. The main reason is access to capital or available funding, according to Shaw.

“Black-owned businesses have a lot more trouble or go through a lot more red tape or redlining to get approved for loans to start up businesses than their White counterparts and that’s just historically proven,” Shaw said.

“The other thing is that a lot of times when you’re applying or proposing a project that the end user wants to know, have you done it before? If you’ve never done it before, and you don’t have the capital, you kind of get into the dead end road all the time. And so the RBCA has been able to help bring companies with the experience again and teach or mentor smaller businesses and also allow them the opportunity to ensure that they help them with their bonding capabilities, which is needed in construction projects.”

In 2015, Black contactors did not receive contract for public projects. Since then, the group has seen growth in public and private projects, according to Shaw.

“It’s still not where we want it to be. But now in certain public sectors, we’re looking at anywhere from 3% to 9% depending on who that end user is,” she said.

Public entities that they have worked with include Dallas County, the city of Dallas, Fort Worth ISD, Garland ISD, Parkland Hospital and JPS.

“We’re now seeing an increase in … Black business utilization – again, nowhere where we need to be because we’re talking about a pie of 100%,” Shaw said. “So, we’re still talking about the crumbs. But we’re making headway and definitely want to continue to find the numbers. The numbers are the proof of why we have to continue advocating.”

Shaw said the organization is continuing to educate minorities on the possibilities of careers in the construction industry.

“I think just addressing a bigger and bigger demand in the workforce and the lack of workforce that we have in the construction industry right now,” Shaw said. “There’s so much demand for workforce. There’s so many projects, there’s so many bond programs going out and frankly, we just don’t have the capacity. I’m saying just like the nation, everyone that I talked to in different states in construction, they’re having the same issue with finding workers and finding people, finding people with that experience or the education and so we’ve even tapped into working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to find people that are in these engineering programs, the construction management programs and we’re looking at women students as well.”

 

A space for women

Shaw stated that the focus is on finding female talent for these jobs.

“Getting them and encouraging them to get interested in the construction industry, because I think that women would also look at it as solving a bigger issue and providing value in a currency that matters to that company,” she said. They have a win-win situation.”

Shaw explained that there are many benefits for women to enter this field.

“The pay is really, really good,” Shaw said. I’ve seen the companies start, you know at $25 dollars an hour depending on the job. Some Superintendents that I’m talking to say they’re making $140,000 starting. So when I say entry level, I’m saying market rate is the correct term. I say women, we’re the best project managers because we have to manage households, we manage kids, we manage family, but we do it in a way all day long knowing we can just do it and get paid really nice for it.”

 

For basic entry level jobs, candidates need to be willing and committed to learning, being onsite to do the job and working with a group. They need to understand that may have to work outside in the elements or in uncomfortable environments, according to Shaw.

“There will always be that learning curve and you have to just have that grit to stick it out and stick with construction depending on where you’re at …” she said. “Those key things about being a team player, because on a construction site, it’s not just you. You’re working with a group of people, different people have different cultures, different languages, different walks of life, and so no different from any other position where you just have to get in there and work with the team.”

 

A Second Chance

RBCA also has a Second Chance program at the same location. This program gives those with criminal backgrounds opportunities they may not have access to otherwise.

“We work with individuals, men and women, who have maybe been impacted by the criminal justice system and they have a blemish on their background,” she said. “We’re providing them with a training opportunity for Dallas College and Tarrant County College. We give them training in the construction field so that way you’re not just going out there without any type of knowledge.

‘What we do is we offer a five-week construction training program to people that are going through the program. The first week, they learn some of those life skills and workforce readiness skills. The second through the fifth week, they’re learning things like blueprint reading, estimating, how to use hand tools, power tools. They actually learn how to build a structure or small structure with framing, and they also receive OSHA 30 certifications, and the OSHA 30 is a very credible, safety certification that most people don’t have. It costs money and it’s not an easy thing to get but this is something that’s provided to the women through this program. And so, when they come out of the program, we help them find employment with our RBCA members and industry partners.”

The course is offered free to the individuals and recently had a graduating class in December. With the new credentials behind them, they now have a competitive advantage.

“We’ve been able to have been funded by various partners and again, we work really closely with our members and our industry partners and people,” she said. “Also, Dallas County is a big supporter of the program. We couldn’t do half of what we do without their support. So we’re able to offer this to people for free and we also provide them with meals daily. There’s a program that we offer for transportation assistance, so they get gas for their cars, bus passes and we give them resumes and go through resume writing with them.

“When everybody goes through the class, whenever they get ready to interview, they have nice new resumes. We offer them housing assistance if there’s a need, and sometimes we are able to help people that are homeless. We actually just provided housing for a woman who went through the program who is going to work but she’s been living in a motel with her five children in a one-bedroom motel. And we were able to get funds to put her into a very comfortable two bedroom, two bath extended stay. So now, when she’s going to work, she doesn’t have to think about that issue. We’re able to help support her until she gets on her feet.”

Currently, there are about 18 seats in the computer lab training area.

“Right now, we have a class that’s scheduled to start in January right after we’ve signed up for that class, which is amazing,” Shaw said. “So we’re gonna be talking to our training location and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be creative with this because we don’t want to turn anybody away, of course.

The more people that know about it, the more people we can help and the more people we can employ onto these job sites and address the workforce issue.”

 

Black contractors

Shaw said it is important to hire Black contractors.

“Black contractors hire Black workforce, and ultimately we’re on a mission to positively impact the Black community and create jobs and create taxpayers so that they can strengthen their family unit,” she said. “We do that by way of employment and job skills training. So, when you hire Black businesses and Black construction companies again, they will hire people from this program. Black men and women ultimately, again will just benefit the whole community at large.”

 

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