A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

“Built to Last” Gala Celebrates 47 Years of Creating Careers

Last month I attended “Built To Last”, SER’s 47th Anniversary Gala at the historic Rice Lofts in downtown Houston.  Video excerpts from the evening are posted below.  The event served to honor some of the leaders who have supported SER – Jobs for Progress, to provide allies of SER the chance to meet each other, and to raise money for SER’s programs.  SER, which stands for “Service, Employment, and Redevelopment”, offers training and employment services to people in low-income, at-risk communities.  The evening included a gathering hour where business and community leaders networked and mingled over drinks and hors d’oeuvres, opportunities to bid on items in a silent auction, an elegant dinner served in the Crystal Ballroom, an inspiring program about the organization, and dancing to live music.

The evening was kicked off by Nory Angel, Executive Director of SER, who addressed the crowd which had gathered in the beautiful Empire Room for cocktails.  She introduced Texas Senator Mario Gallegos, Jr, and recognized him for his support of SER’s mission to help underprivileged Houstonians find careers.

Attendees were given the opportunity to bid on silent auction baskets which held a lavish variety of items to capture the interest of any taste.  From winery tours, to sporting event packages featuring some of the best seats in the house, to autographed jerseys and photos of celebrities such as Michael Phelps, to unique jewelry and artwork, to travel packages – the auction packages offered something for everyone!  One of the packages featured one of the rustic wooden ice chests made by the students at SER and included a tour and tasting at Saint Arnold’s brewery.

Live music accompanied dinner, during which everyone continued to mingle, network, and bid on the auction items.  Local ABC news anchor and reporter Art Rascon acted as emcee.  Inspirational videos were shown highlighting some of SER’s programs, and featuring the two main honorees of the evening.

The Community Leader Award was presented to Cruz R. Hinojosa, Jr., a SER graduate who went on to work for the City of Houston while volunteering and serving on the boards of several nonprofit organizations.  Hinojosa was chosen for the award for his “exemplary work in the community and for embodying the spirit and potential within every SER client”.

The Business Leader Award was presented to The Marek Family of Companies, and was accepted by Stan Marek, President and CEO.  The Marek Family of Companies was chosen for “exemplifying corporate citizenship and demonstrating a commitment to improving the lives of our local workforce by providing honest, stable and living-wage jobs for SER graduates and area residents”.  In accepting the award, Stan Marek explained why he believes that the work of SER is improving the construction industry.  He spoke of how the industry has changed in the 43 years since he entered it as a union carpenter.  In those days, construction jobs were considered middle class – respected careers with good training and benefits.  He continued with the following remarks which generated a standing ovation:

“With the open borders caused by a broken immigration system, millions of workers joined our workforce.  They were welcomed by all, encouraged to come to the United States, and filled the jobs that we desperately needed to fill.  Eventually the supply exceeded the demand and wages began to fall as did employment practices.

“Gone was the traditional employer-employee relationship.  It was replaced with the independent subcontractor-contractor relationship where basically the worker was responsible for his taxes, his training, his insurance, and his benefits – a system that is not sustainable.  Today in our construction industry, both residential and commercial, there are more workers being classified as contractors than employees.  Most work for cash, few pay taxes, and even fewer have benefits and retirement.  Not because they want to work under those conditions, but that’s all that’s available.

“And this is our workforce of the future.  Yes, one day we will get a sensible immigration bill.  And those men and women can come out of the shadows and enjoy the rights and privileges that they deserve.

“In the next 30 years we will very likely duplicate the built environment of this great city.  Think of that:  another Houston in the next 30 years!  More than likely that will happen.  And guess what, we may not have the skilled labor to do it.

“Think about this.  We have an aging workforce, guys like me.  We have the best border security in the history of our nation.  Not perfect, but better.  Conditions in Mexico, in spite of the violence, are improving.  And many workers, hard workers today that came over for the past 30 years have gone back, because of the lack of work here.  Our workforce is greatly diminishing.

“What we may be looking at very soon is a perfect storm of more work than labor to build it.  This time when things pick up, we won’t be able to rely on an immigrant labor force coming across the border, or borders, for more security; nor should we.

“We have in our Texas schools young men and women who will not be going to college.  We are learning the hard way that our high drop out rate is a result that some kids just aren’t made for college.  Some kids might want to learn a trade, might want to learn a craft.  And what we can offer in the construction industry is a career.  But it has to start with an attractive wage; it has to start with a career path; and most importantly, it has to start with training.

“We have an opportunity, as an industry and as a city, to make a tremendous impact on the youth of our city.  An immigration bill, enforcing the current wage and hour laws, would help.  But it’s only a start.

“SER is leading the charge, setting an example of what can be done.  Their successes are our successes.  Nory, I want to thank you and your staff for all you do.  We, the Mareks / MEMCO companies, are proud of this association.  We want to do everything we can to ensure that your work in this community continues.

“I am so tired of seeing our young men and women not have the opportunity that I had 43 years ago to enter the trades, learn a craft, have benefits and a career path.  We have got to change that.”

The evening ended with final bids at the auction, a self-serve candy bar in the foyer, and dancing in the ballroom.  Congratulations, SER, for hosting a wonderful event!

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