A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Opportunity Plus Initiative: A Success Story [VIDEO]

Last month I visited an active construction site in the Texas Medical Center where I was able to interview two MAREK craft professionals who are both working on a hospital construction project, and who both happen to be women.  This is the first of those two interviews.

Laura Contreras was hired by MAREK after receiving training at Houston’s Community Family Centers (CFC), an organization in east Houston with the mission “To equip families in the area with the tools they need to become self-sufficient members of the community.”  While Contreras’s mother was taking English language courses at CFC, she learned about the NCCER training offered there, so Laura took the course in which she enjoyed working with tools.  “It gives you a chance to build, destroy, and build again,” she told me.  She said the teachers opened doors for potential employers to “look you up.”  In this way, Contreras met someone from MAREK at her CFC graduation who interviewed her and hired her that same day!

After going through MAREK’s start-up training which included safety training and familiarization with various tools, Contreras was taken to her first jobsite where she began learning “little by little... You are doing the job, but they are teaching you all of the way.”

Laura is part of MAREK’s relatively new flooring division.  Ferssen Lopez, superintendent, talked about this division in which the flooring crew members are now paid hourly rather than the way they were paid when flooring was installed by a subcontractor.  Ferssen was told: “Now you are going to be in charge of making the crew from MAREK Brothers hourly.”  He talked about the hands-on training: “We can see they are really changed in a week -- the way we teach them.  We spend time with them.  If they do something wrong, we don’t move them away and say ‘let me do it myself.’  They have to keep doing it until they do it right.”  Contreras added with a smile, “We actually get a chance to make mistakes.”  This is part of learning to do it correctly.

Contreras actually had some previous experience in construction working with marble and old stone, which she said is a completely different craft.  She said she likes how at MAREK she was able to start at the bottom of the career ladder and have the opportunity “to build every step of the way.”  She said that at MAREK she works with her boss and her coworkers and she never feels alone or left out.  She feels that she is always given chances and opportunities, and she likes that.  When I asked her what she enjoys best about her job, she answered:

“What do I like?  That you start something and you actually get to finish – you get to see the finished result.  When you see something and think ‘oh this is impossible, you are never going to finish,’ and there comes a day when you think ‘oh my, we did that?  This is so beautiful!’ – You get to experience that.”

Lopez added that this is a point he shares with his children and his family.  He said no one likes to go to a hospital, but when the hospital is one you have helped build, you point with pride at the work and say “Look, I did this!”

I also had a chance to meet Gabriel Hernandez, Contreras’s foreman in the flooring division.  Hernandez came to MAREK with over 20 years of experience in construction.  In fact, Hernandez previously worked for a subcontracting company that MAREK hired at times to do flooring on MAREK projects.  When MAREK created their new flooring subdivision 2½ years ago, Hernandez was hired as a MAREK foreman to work with 5-6 trainees at a time.

I enjoyed my time with Laura Contreras and the MAREK craft professionals she works with, and look forward to learning more about her future success as her career in construction continues.  You may watch my interview with her in the 7-minute video below.