A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Construction Gold

For us athletes, gold is the standard we strive for.  Whether it’s a gold medal, gold watch, or gold plated, it is the mark of excellence.

Recently, Gary McGuire, owner of Gary McGuire Construction & Development appeared on my DSA $1,000,000 Blueprint podcast to discuss employment recruiting strategies and his efforts to employ young African Americans in his construction company. 

Currently, he is building houses throughout the city and pouring concrete piers on a few Houston Independent School District 2012 Bond funded projects. 

Gary and I are African American construction company owners.  My company, in particular, is both diverse and inclusive with great representation of age, gender and race.  Although we’re doing quite well, we both struggle in recruiting and retaining young African American men between the ages of 18 and 26 years of age for our firms.

Recruiting is easy. Retainage is hard.

My recruitment strategy is to move beyond an “us versus them” mentality to a “we” situation to accomplish personal, company and project goals. 

We spend a lot of time demolishing barriers perpetuated by stereotyping, racism and discrimination; acknowledging situations of poor career planning or inadequate skill preparation as thieves of time and energy; while committing to building understanding and friendships with others outside of our cultural group contributes to our success which is hard to teach to those who lack industry exposure, are not accustomed to the work pace or working in an environment where there are few people who look like them  or speak their language in key positions.

When recruiting I’ve found that our best entry-level construction candidates are not at job fairs, on college campuses, or at community organizations, but in the gym, or on a court, or a field either training for a sport or to stay physically active. 

The conversation quickly changed when I asked McGuire, a record-setting former University of Houston linebacker, how his college athletic career prepared him for the construction industry. His answer was simple.

“The discipline required to be a top athlete prepared me for life. I just carried it over to my business.”

His simple response sent me on a quest to explore the relationship between African Americans, athletics and construction and how sports can be used to attract young African Americans, women and other people of color 18 to 26 years of age into entry-level construction trade positions. 

In 2015, less than 4% of construction managers and less than 5% of first-line supervisors in the U.S. were African American (U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). These percentages were well below any other major racial group for which date was reported. Research suggests a greater lack of awareness and/or interest among African Americans than any other racial group to pursue careers in the construction industry. At the same time, the U.S. construction industry is facing a skilled labor shortage as the construction workforce continues to age. As a result, there is a need to increase recruitment efforts aimed at K-12 and college students, especially African American students, for construction related careers.

Texas has an extremely large African American population.  In Houston, African Americans make up approximately 30% of the total population, but less than 5% of construction industry employees. 

Not surprisingly, a Sports Digest Article entitled Triple Tragedy of the Black Student Athlete (Simuyu: 2010) 44 percent of African American male college athletes between the ages of 16 and 24 interviewed, believed they could earn a living playing professional sports, more than double the percentage of white males. But the real odds of a high school athlete playing in any pro sport is 10,000 to 1. Playing in the NBA is a 50,000-to-1 shot.

The long standing racist and ill-informed stereotype that blacks, and other people of color, are genetically or physically more athletic than whites and that the former are intellectually deficient compared to the latter; media propaganda portraying sports as a broadly accessible route to social and economic mobility; and, a lack of comparably visible high prestige black role models beyond the sports  arena creates a combination of influences that generates an obsessive pursuit of unattainable sports goals that neglects personal, professional and cultural development drains potential talent away from other vital occupational areas such as law, education and the technical skills. 

I believe a solid introduction to a viable, progressive and profitable construction career can transition athletic dreams into the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by showing ALL young adults regardless of age, race and gender how they can weave their athletic talent, personal and financial dreams into construction gold.

Construction gold is an athletic, adventurous young person who wants to build a life and career for themselves through construction.  They have the grit and determination to move up the chain and have no qualms of taking other people with them on their journey. 

Most 18 to 26-year-olds have no track record from an employment standpoint, but the experience an athletic person, who has or currently is participating in an athletic program bodes well in the workplace, especially on construction sites justifies my “Why.”

Construction workers work on all construction sites, doing a wide range of tasks from the very easy to the extremely difficult and hazardous.  Although many of these tasks they do require training and experience, most jobs usually require little skill and can be learned quickly. 

An athlete, like a construction worker, must understand the game strategies while obeying the rules and regulations of an athletic activity.  The events in which athletes compete includes team sports, such as baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer and marching band while individual sports such as track, golf, tennis and playing a band instrument require individual skill positions to work together as a unit just like a concrete crew would do with laborers, carpenters and equipment operators.    

Faster, stronger, farther and higher is both the Olympic Creed and the objective of a skilled builder.   

Athletes, like construction workers, spend many hours each day enhancing skills and improving teamwork under the guidance of a coach/foreman.  A great performer always critiques their own performances and techniques while observing their competitors’ tendencies and weaknesses to gain a competitive advantage.  Because competition at all levels is extremely intense and job security is always in question, both athletes and construction workers work throughout the year to maintain excellent form, technique and peak physical condition which makes them great employees.

Construction gold has to be mined and shaped.  Athletes understand failure and have likely failed more than they’ve won, but they always get up and keep going.  Failure is not tolerated on a construction site because it can kill you both physically and financially.   In the workplace, this trait creates an employee who will find a way to win.  The athletic traits we desire in our construction workers are as follows: 

1.  They have the drive to perfect a task rigorously, relentlessly and even on the event of failure until they succeed. 

That is what construction is all about.  Athletes are tenacious – they seldom or never give up.  They also have a strong work ethic and the ability to respect, and deal with the inevitable issues of temporary pain (along with intuition to know when the cause of the pain is an issue too serious to safely ignore.)

2.  Achieve goals

If one avenue is blocked, they find another path to success.  If their physical strength has given out, they learn to work smarter, not harder.  As they learn to become more effective they become more efficient. 

3.  Develop new skills  

Even though an athlete is highly specialized in certain skills, such as speed blocking, or eye-hand coordination, they are also good at adapting to scenarios that call for cross-functional skills.  Just like a skilled laborer who knows how to lay forms and operate heavy equipment. 

4.  Strive for balance

Too much junk food, video games and too little sleep will not contribute to a healthy company or a winning performance.  Their bodies must be strong and in condition, so both athletes and construction workers understand that they can’t cheat the system for long and expect positive results.  A true athlete will respect the laws of balance in energy, health, sleep, and nutrition that will allow them to succeed and to do so in the present and for the long term as well. 

5.  Work well with partners and in teams. 

Athletes know how to leverage the unique and complementary strengths of each member of their team.  They know that cutting down a teammate or disrespecting a partner will only contribute to the organization’s demise.  In fact, an athlete will typically put the needs of the team or a partner on equal par or even ahead of their own needs

6.  Become exceptional entrepreneurs

As you consider new hires, you will likely discover that business owners are often former (or current) athletes.  Whereas people from large corporate environments may tend to be specialized in their skill and single-minded in their objectives, a construction business-oriented athlete is equipped to see the bigger vision of all that goes into making a company thrive.  They can think strategically and are tuned in to the “big picture” and the long-term goals.  They also know how to put strategy into motion. 

Recruiting is easy.  Retainage can be made easier.

The way to recruit is to provide ALL employees with technical and leadership skills for operating into a multicultural environment, so they can understand their own as well as other cultures, values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses through the provision of:

  • Training and cultural educational programs
  • Organizational policies that mandate fairness and equity for all employees
  • Mentoring programs for minority and women employees
  • More systematic career guidance and planning programs
  • Performance appraisal systems that are non-discriminatory
  • Sponsor outreach programs such as internship programs, scholarship recruitment in the community and presentations at local schools.

Show that you care.

Be keen on the ways you can recognize and hire for propensity instead of for current demonstratable traits.  Consider the questions you ask in the interviews about outside projects, other interests, community service, the ability to focus on pet projects and teamwork concepts. 

Sometimes Gary and I don’t see eye-to eye on some issues; however, we do agree many of our strongest employees whether they are black, white, brown, yellow, blue, green or polka dot with purple hair may have never previously excelled at a physical sport, but they stay fit.  They never knew they were athletes.  That’s the important aspect of hiring them into our companies.  Our best employees are not necessarily discovered; they train and that’s what makes them valuable.