Diversity in the workforce is more than a moral imperative

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by Warren Frey last update:Oct 10, 2014

New challenges and opportunities were the focus of a recent gathering of construction leaders from Canada and the U.S.

One big topic of discussion was the need for diversity in the construction industry.

“It’s not a moral issue, it’s an economic issue,” said Theo Nix, who works for Dupont as an attorney.

He was part of a panel discussion, Navigating the Industry for Users and Owners, on Feb. 12 at the jointly held Eighth International Open Shop Conference (IOSC8) and Bizcon 2014 in Maui, Hawaii.

Nix stressed the critical need for diversity in workforce development.

He said that Dupont is involved globally in many sectors and has a critical need for talent, who can relate culturally to the people in the countries where they employ workers.

“There’s a tremendous need for project managers who can speak Spanish (and other relevant languages),” said Nix.

“If you can do that, you’ll get tons of work from us.”

Ledcor general operations manager Andreas Wolf echoed Nix’s sentiments, and cited both work in Canada with First Nations and in the United States with some federal contracting work.

“The bigger challenge is the idea of ‘diversity of thought’,” Wolf said, using a phrase Nix employed during the panel.

“We need to bring in people, who think outside the box, who understand what our box is and why it exists, but are willing to stretch the boundaries,” he said.

Infrastructure was cited as one of the most important trends the industry is dealing with. Lend Lease Inc. vice president Pete Sims said urbanization of the Americas rose as much from 2010 to 2012 as it did from 2000 to 2010.

“There is an opportunity here to leverage urban renewal and infrastructure, he said.

Wolf took a more cautionary tone, but agreed with Sims.

“The bill is coming due and something has to be done,” he said, adding that a willingness to move beyond traditional design-build models towards public-private partnerships and other approaches would be advantageous in the future.

Wolf also addressed the labour crunch, pointing out the need for qualified people for an increasing number of resource-based jobs.

“Foreign workers can be imported, but it is important to get youth engaged to build up a new workforce,” he said.

Sims addressed the importance of safety and said his company won’t do a job unless they are assured it is completely safe. Nix said everyone at Dupont from the CEO on down is required to participate in a safety program. CEO Dan Ogus, who specializes in facilities for senior, said that his company won’t work with a contractor, unless residents are able to safely move around the site and the project has taken into consideration the unique needs of an older population.

For Wolf, safety is also the most important facet of the job.

“Not a single thing we’ve built is worth a life or hand or finger,” he said. “Workers can go home tired and dirty, but they have to go home to their family the same way they left them in the morning.”

last update:Oct 10, 2014

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