A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

The Journey of C3 - A Fond Farewell from Chuck Gremillion

When I became the executive director of Construction Career Collaborative (C3) in February 2014, I did so not fully knowing what to expect. What I did know was the idea of establishing a safe, skilled, sustainable craft workforce appealed to me because I have always believed the key to success for any organization or industry lies foremost in its ability to develop its workforce by providing them the tools and skills, both hard and soft, to succeed and grow in their profession. It sounded simple, but I soon learned how naïve I was because the challenges C3 was addressing were anything but simple. In fact, they were deeply seated, complex, and cultural. C3 was attempting to change how the commercial construction industry conducts its business.

At the heart of this complex problem is how construction companies have traditionally been selected for projects, low bid. There is nothing negative about selecting the low bidder unless it is, or it is perceived as, the exclusive determinant for selection, which potentially can lead to these undesirable human resources practices:

  • Paying craft workers as independent subcontractors thereby avoiding federal and state employment taxes, which includes those which fund Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits.
  • No traditional employee benefits with healthcare insurance and a 401K being examples 
  • Compensating craft workers by the piece instead of as hourly employees thereby avoiding overtime pay
  • Elimination of skills training, which is commonplace when there is no employer-employee relationship 
  • No objective method of performance appraisal and promotion, which translates to no career path
  • No formalized safety training
  • No workers compensation insurance in the event of an injury on the job

These employment practices are at the heart of why the commercial construction industry has struggled with a largely unskilled and unsustainable craft workforce because they simply aren’t competitive with what other industries offer.

Ironically, while all the issues listed above were adopted to cut costs in order to be the low bidder and win projects, they actually increased the craft labor costs of a construction project. In one informal study done by a local General Contractor for the thirty-year period from 1981-2011, data showed that wages for a carpenter remained flat during this timeframe while craft labor expense grew 400%! Specifically, in 1981 a journeyman carpenter’s hourly wage was $15, and it was still $15 per hour thirty years later in 2011. Oddly, construction employers believed they were saving money even though their labor costs increased as most craft workers went untrained and were unskilled, which markedly increased inefficiency and waste. This increase in cost and inefficiency was passed along to the Owner as part of a “low bid”. As a result, no party involved in the construction process benefitted; not the Owner, not the Contractor or Specialty Contractor, and most of all, not the craft worker. 

In 2009, several industry leaders recognized that these workforce practices had damaged the construction industry’s reputation as a desirable career destination. This, coupled with the retirement of the Baby Boom generation and the movement to send all high school graduates to college, was creating an unsustainable craft workforce. That realization served as the seeds for badly needed change; hence the establishment of C3 more than a decade ago.

The founders of C3 recognized that the solution to this complex challenge was not achievable without the support and engagement of Owners. Gradually, Owners engaged with C3 as they recognized the long-term impact of this problem on their projects and its effect on the craft trades. Early on these Owners included MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children’s Hospital, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, JLL, and Hines, all serial builders. They were joined by the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, Brookfield Properties, College of the Mainland, University of Houston, and Texas Medical Center, among others, all of whom have specified C3 accreditation in their project specifications. These Owners, and the leaders that sit on the C3 Board of Directors, brought credibility to C3, which began to open minds to its mission.  

Currently, there are 56 C3 Projects where C3 requirements were included in their project specifications. These projects run the gamut of liturgical buildings, commercial office buildings and interiors, healthcare facilities, post-secondary and post-graduate education buildings, and museums, all of which have been constructed by C3 accredited construction companies, 300 of which are Accredited Employers, 170 of whom have earned a C3 Craft Training Endorsement.

Today, I am proud to say C3 is much more than an accreditation organization. C3 employs workforce development professionals that provide consulting services free of charge for its 300 Accredited Employers. These professionals, all of whom have earned a master’s degree in the field of Human Resources, begin by guiding construction employers through the process to develop a competency map for each craft position in their respective company. This competency map identifies the skills that must be taught and mastered before that craftsperson is eligible to be promoted to the next position in the career path. This process also establishes an objective means to measure and evaluate each craft worker’s performance while also identifying all the positions in their respective career path. This translates to skilled workers that deliver high-quality work and greater productivity and ultimately leads to reduced employee turnover, all of which translates to improved employee morale and bottom-line profitability. Couple these services with C3’s Driving Business Results Through Talent Management class and C3’s hiring events, and it is a win-win-win for all parties involved in the construction process.

Looking forward, the key to success for C3 will be its ability to continue to build its reputation and brand as the valuable and trusted, go-to experts for construction employers seeking to create a successful workforce development program. If C3 can generate raving fans of its services, the construction industry will reach a tipping point where stellar workforce development practices are demanded by Owners to compete for projects and sought out by those considering a career in the craft trades. Once this occurs, C3 will have taken giant strides toward fulfilling its mission of a safe, skilled, and sustainable craft workforce pipeline.

Lastly, it is time for me to transition to the next chapter of my life, retirement, and Friday, April 30th, will be my last day. At which time, I will officially and proudly pass the reins of Executive Director to Angela Robbins Taylor. As many of you may know from personal experience with her, Angela is a very talented leader, and I fully expect that she will take C3 to the next level and beyond. In fact, she has already led the development of C3’s new strategic plan and begun implementation of it. I sincerely hope that you will reach out to Angela to offer your congratulations and introduce yourself if you have not done so previously. I promise Angela is someone with whom you should be acquainted.  

All the best!

Chuck Gremillion