For eight years, the D. Samuels and Associates (DSA) firm has molded its position in construction by providing a niche of construction management projects to complement the Houston labor market. Partnering with Houston’s Independent School District, University of Texas Medical Center Branch at Galveston, North Tarrant Infrastructure Project University of Texas System, Hensel Phelps Construction Company and a host of independent contractors, this construction management firm has been able to leverage opportunities for young people to aspire to greater unforeseen heights. By linking the skills gap to education, it is in direct compliance with current employment trends and needs. These are the sign of the times, and DSA is up to the challenge.
Carmela Walker, from Houston Area Urban League, sat down with Darryl Samuels to learn more.
CW: Good morning, Darryl. It is a pleasure to speak with you today! As an owner and managing partner of D. Samuels and Associates, LLC, you’ve built this construction management company based upon your previous experience at the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC). What impact did your former role as the executive director of NAMC in the Houston Chapter have on DSA?
DS: I learned how to organize people and manage expectations as executive director of NAMC, Inc. Greater Houston Chapter and as the national vice president of NAMC, including how to bring different groups of people together on how to perform on construction projects and cultivate relationships that drive the construction industry. I coached contractors on how to choose appropriate projects, review blue prints and specifications, identify staffing needs, obtain financing, and bond through one-on-one tutorials and workshops. I realized after supporting others and stressing the importance of access, problem solving and capacity building, it was time to open my own company.
CW: In this current role, what type of construction projects do you work on?
DS: D. Samuels and Associates builds lives, careers and projects one person at a time through talent, technology and tenacity. Our strength is in our people. To put it in perspective, construction is problem solving based upon the various facets of construction. What I have been able to do is use my expertise, as well as my team’s experience, to build projects, monitor performance and train people to excel in the industry. We provide services in three areas: construction, we install specialty items in hospital and institutional projects on an as-needed basis; management, we provide construction management services with an emphasis on labor compliance for K-12 and heavy highway projects; and, sponsor and coordinate resource development programs, where we recruit and retain contractors and workers to pursue and perform on high profile construction projects.
DSA has performed admirably on projects with local school districts, heavy highway, hospital and airport projects within the state of Texas and looking to expand outside to other states with contracts that focus on specialty items — equipment installs, construction management with an emphasis on labor compliance, and resource development. On the construction end, we are working with hospitals in Galveston, Texas, installing equipment along with a series of major labor compliant contracts tied into the Houston Independent School District’s 2012 bond program and a project in Fort Worth, Texas, Tarrant County North 45 infrastructure project. On the resource development end, we have formulated a number of programs to recruit people and give people a general idea of what construction is all about.
CW: It sounds like your contracts and programs are pretty progressive, but under your leadership, there are different facets of your organization as well such as the Million Dollar Blue Print?
DS: On the resource development end, we have formulated a number of programs to recruit people and provide a general idea of what construction is all about through our Construction Combine and Million-Dollar Blue Print programs. Some of our contractors have expressed difficulty finding local talent to fill the current labor shortage. DSA has plugged two projects to address these concerns.
The Construction Combine project, on the HISD School District jobsite, we assess and sponsor talent. Combined with NCCER modules, we’ve created 10 stations to test basic skills such as reading blueprints, rulers, following instructions and lifting 100 pounds overhead. Once the talent is evaluated, the contractors then decide to hire or not. If hired, the talent can start work immediately. If they do not pass the set of requirements, but are still interested in construction, we will turn those candidates over to a number of service agencies that sponsor construction training programs.
The Million Dollar Blue Print or Blue Print hosts kids who are not familiar with careers in construction. By refining the process, six modules are highlighted, tracking pathways that demonstrate how millions of dollars can be made. Skill assessments, career development, investments, real-estate, project management and business ownership are key capstones that fuse the nuts and bolts of our industry. The idea behind it is to illustrate the potential by showing how money flows in all facets of a construction company.
CW: How many graduates do you have from your construction projects and programs? And, what is the demographic or targeted age group for these cohorts?
DS: Our target is 16 to 26 years of age. The mid-point is 18 years of age because 18 is the required age to work on a construction job site. For teenagers who are unsure about what they would like to do, we run the Blueprint and the Combine initiatives through participating high schools. We also found that speaking to college graduates has been pretty successful. If there are student loans to pay off, we can either identify or offer entry-level positions that provide loads of opportunities; however, we keep the classes relatively small. To date, we have engaged over 400 students and have 15 graduates from Blue Print.
CW: What has been the feedback from working with these schools?
DS: Well, both the teachers and students are skeptical at first and then become very engaged once we start the competition. The feedback has been extremely favorable. We have been able to create a competitive environment by showing students and teachers how their school work relates to the construction industry. We receive a lot of ah-ha moments because the participants we tap are unaware of the potential in this field. Those students that we have reached were stunned when they learned about the barrage of opportunities. A lot of students have expressed disbelief about the profitable possibilities.
CW: Once you’ve provided the opportunity and they segue into the field, what is the starting wage for these students and how do they accentuate their skills from that point?
DS: If they are looking at an entry-level positions on a construction project, they will make between $11.00 and $15.00 dollars an hour. It really depends upon both their mindset and skillset. We work with approximately 10 construction companies who are in good standing with us and include, but are not limited to site work, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and flooring. Our partnering companies are on rotation based upon the project site we are on and those construction owners set the benchmarks for progress. Once the candidates have been bridged through our program, then each partner can offer accelerated training within those concentrated areas at their discretion.
CW: Darryl, the program sounds amazing and I wish you all the best as your company continues to grow and expand to touch the hearts and mind of our next gens. I appreciate you sharing with us today.
DS: I appreciated the opportunity. Thank you, Carmela.