As workforce demographics continue to change, the construction industry has to change with them. Executives have already identified the subject as critical to their success in the coming decade, viewing it as both a challenge and an opportunity for growth. After all, diversity provides a wide variety of benefits.
Professionals in leadership positions want to put the best talent on the playing field, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. When they create conditions to attract that talent — and support a diverse workforce — they help themselves as much as they help others.
As context, white people will comprise less than half of the U.S. population under age 30 by 2023. Between the broader time frame of 2010 to 2030, the future citizenry and labor force will be predominantly people of color. Meanwhile, women will continue to make strides in industries they have historically been excluded from.
With this in mind, executives in the construction industry need to champion diversity with progressive practices and strategies. They should provide opportunities for workers that often lack access to leadership opportunities in these fields, helping them meet their goals and advance in their careers. Their success is the company's success.
So how should construction professionals approach the issue of diversity in the workforce? What steps can they take to ensure their company is inclusive? The subject is somewhat complicated, of course, but as long as industry professionals implement the suggestions below, they'll improve on their business model.
Address and Overcome Language Barriers
As stated earlier, executives in the construction industry view the subject of diversity as both a challenge and an opportunity. While it's a fundamentally positive thing, it also comes with specific difficulties professionals need to consider. More specifically, they have to address language barriers.
A misunderstanding on a job site is potentially dangerous. Communication is indispensable in construction projects, and if a worker misinterprets directions, they may cause an otherwise avoidable accident. Fortunately, this isn't a new issue in the industry, and companies have solutions for managing it.
To start, they can offer language training programs for employees who don't speak fluent English. Companies can also hire bilingual safety professionals and supervisors to accommodate the needs of minority workers. Beyond these strategies, construction professionals will improve site safety orientations with visual examples.
The industry as a whole is highly visual. Using pictures to portray different construction activities from a quality performance perspective is an effective way to overcome language barriers. Companies can move past issues with communications when they adapt their current practices to embrace diversity and inclusivity.
Provide Nontraditional Education Options
The strong correlation between education and employment underscores the need for accessible programs. Not everyone chooses a four-year degree, and nontraditional options are an attractive alternative. More than that, they can offer real-world experience to foster an understanding of the industry.
On the subject of these programs, a community college can partner with a business to provide a genuine perspective of what working in construction is really like. It spreads awareness of heavy equipment operating careers a student may not have known about, creating new opportunities for them to explore.
That said, colleges and construction companies also stand to gain. The college reinforces learning in the classroom with hands-on education while the company has increased access to a skilled labor pool. When they collaborate, they enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship where both organizations prosper.
In addition to these programs, construction companies should also give more attention to technical training rather than formal degrees. Today’s programs can offer accessible career paths, creating opportunities for professionals who can become superintendents or project managers without college degrees. This will open doors for workers otherwise left out of leadership positions in the industry.
Create an Inclusive Work Environment
A diverse workforce means embracing opportunities for all nontraditional workers. Of the 10 million people employed in the industry, only 9% of them are women. A male-dominated model is unsustainable, and if executives in construction want to create a truly inclusive environment, they'll have to place more emphasis on gender equality.
Taking a closer look at the issue, women continue to encounter a range of gender-related challenges in the workplace. They have to manage gender bias, social perceptions and a lack of adequate resources and benefits. With these difficulties, they'll often look elsewhere for employment.
However, trends in construction have shown the status quo is starting to change. Though only 7% of construction executive officers were women in 2010, that percentage has experienced a growth of 15% over the past several years, which is the most significant gain across any industry. It's easy to understand.
When women occupy leadership positions, they can eliminate many of the gender-related challenges mentioned above. Female leadership plays an integral role in the success of future recruitment efforts, mentorship and guidance for women and improved standards across multiple areas of an organization.
Creating a Future for All Construction Professionals
Executives in construction should consider some of the suggestions above and adjust their current practices where necessary. When they remove language barriers, expand education options and strive toward a more inclusive work environment, they'll make steady progress and secure the future of their company.