A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Construction’s “PED” Problem

The following was originally published in Cornerstone, the quarterly magazine of AGC Houston.  Reprinted with permission.

In a year when most professional sports fans in Houston have not had much to cheer about, there was a brief shining moment for Astros fans earlier this year.  No, I am not referring to the fact that they own the number one pick in the draft for the second year in a row.

In January Craig Biggio, a Houston Astro from rookie to retirement, was expected to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  It was his second year in the voting, and his statistics shouted, “Hall of Famer”.  Only it did not happen.  He missed by two votes.  Unfortunately for Biggio, his baseball career spanned what has become known as the steroid era.

Biggio has never been accused of nor has it ever even been suggested that he used steroids.  But, the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) by a litany of major league stars has tainted everyone and everything associated with Major League Baseball from the late 1980’s to 2010.  Many good players became tangled in the mess created by a significant few.

This got me thinking that maybe our industry has its own PED problem.  I’m not talking about contractors on steroids or any other illegal substance.  I am referring to a different PED – let’s call it proposal enhancing decisions.  Let me clarify what I mean.  It is the conscientious decision to:

  1. not ensure that craft workers are paid the correct hourly wage as well as compensated for earned overtime,
  2. not ensure that the correct taxes are being withheld,
  3. not ensure that all workers have the required safety training, and
  4. not provide knowledge and skill training for the worker.

Being the competitive business that construction is, just like in Major League Baseball, contractors must always be looking for a way to find that edge – to create distance from the competition.  And for the most part, good contractors find that edge through good business practices.  Unfortunately, with the increased use of the PED, many good companies have been forced to compete at a level that is only doing serious harm to the commercial construction industry.

The industry’s ability to recruit and retain a skilled workforce has been seriously undermined by these decisions.  It was not that long ago that finding workers for our industry was not a problem.  However, the recent recession, the increased manpower needs in the oil and gas and petrochemical industry, and the lack of a true career path in many of the craft trades have created enormous pressure on the contracting community to find a qualified workforce.

With the recent crackdown in Major League Baseball, it appears owners are finally serious about cleaning up the mess.  Fortunately for the commercial construction industry, owners and contractors are also saying enough is enough.  Through the Construction Career Collaborative (C3) more and more owners and contractors are beginning to adopt the principles that will not only provide a safe and skilled workforce but that will make a significant difference in project quality and productivity.  If you have not signed up or are interested in finding out more about the Collaborative, please visit the website at www.constructioncareercollaborative.org.

Most experts agree that Biggio’s day will come to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  His stats, character, and off-field activities merit his induction.  Joining C3 probably won’t get you invited into any particular hall of fame; however, you will be part of a team working to restore the integrity of an industry that has been known for not only shaping skylines, but providing careers for many of the people that live and work in them.

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