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From the Desk of Executive Director Bryon Short

From The Desk of Executive Director Bryon Short - May 13, 2020

May 13, 2020

Increasing the number of African Americans sharing in the benefits of careers in construction has been a key commitment of Brian DiSabatino, EDIS, Jamie Chambers, Director of Workforce Development, and myself.  Starting a little over a year ago, we reached out to DCA members to identify black people working in their companies who could help us create a plan that could have real impact in addressing underrepresentation. Our first small cohort meeting was facilitated by then-Secretary of Labor Cerron Cade. This first meeting put a spotlight on the fact that there are too few examples of black people in supervisory positions and even fewer owning companies. The participants shared that they believed the lack of seeing black people in positions of authority and increased responsibility led people entering the field to view it as a dead-end job.

Fortunately, when we reached out to DCA’s members, some had black construction leaders among their teams serving both in the field and in the office. Over the past year, the Black Skilled Trades & Career Council (BSTCC) cohort grew. We cast a broad net with the cohort reaching out to their networks, bringing in some increased diversity from black owned small businesses to people working in Christiana Care’s hospital facilities.

As Covid restrictions lifted this year, the Black Skilled Trades & Career Council was finally able to go into high gear! In February, Jamie wrote in The Punchlist about the great experience she and BSTCC member, TJ Thornton, Delmarva Power, had presenting to young people at The Warehouse. The most meaningful example of the impact of this work was when later that same night a student at their presentation emailed Jamie saying he wants to work in construction and was looking for a way to connect with companies doing the type of work he is interested in. Jamie jumped into action and connected the student with a DCA member and he is now on his way to an internship.

This event was, in fact, so impactful that the Black Skilled Trades & Career Council was asked to make a presentation to the new class of the Kingswood Community Center RISE program. What a great night this was. Both union and merit members of the BSTCC shared how they came to be in construction, the rewards they enjoy now and the future they are moving towards.  The students of color were fully engaged. If you’ve been to DCA’s Construction Career Panel you will know that the engagement during the presentation with students is good, but the most meaningful conversations take place after the panel is done, when the students approach panelists in small groups with their questions. We saw the same thing following the presentation to the RISE students. In groups of two and three, the students approached the panelist they connected with to ask questions and share their goals.

To meet the workforce challenges the construction industry faces we must welcome everyone interested in the industry with open arms.  But sitting back and waiting for someone to express interest isn’t enough. We need to actively connect with communities that are underrepresented in our industry.

The best way to make that connection is with people that have the most in common with their community. When we connect, we need to effectively communicate the rewards the construction industry offers. The financial rewards as well as the pride in making something tangible that will stand the test of time. We must effectively communicate that workers will receive opportunities to have diverse and challenging careers whether in the field or the office.

I want to thank the members of the BSTCC, and in particular those members who have spoken to the RISE students, for their dedication to expanding the workforce. If you have leaders in your company or know of someone that can help us have a positive impact, please let us know. Thank you to the companies who have already identified members:

Alex Heck
DJ Lowe
Frank Hanson
Gerard Dixon
Gift Boardley
Irvine Johnson
Lernard Thornton Jr.
Marcel Fene
Mekhi Lingham
Michael Benedict
Michael Buck
Naseem Matthews
Thomas Mundy
Tyjee Dinkins
Yohan Banfield

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