A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Reverent to the Crafts

The following article originally appeared in the September newsletter to clients of Kiley Advisors, LLC.  Reprinted with permission.

Recently, I was in a conversation about golf with Joe Mathis, leader of The Mathis Group – highly respected project managers and owners’ representatives. He said that he played golf with a group of people who were “reverent to the game.” What a meaningful phrase to anyone who wants to honor the historical essence of golf as a gentlemen’s game.

It made me think about our commercial construction industry, and specifically our craft workers, which historically are the essence of our companies, in an industry that blends extraordinary building competency with the ability to manage people, projects and risks. These reflections, which considered the rapid growth in the use of technology, the almost universal practice of multiple-tier subcontracting, and the expanding value of prefabrication, surfaced the question: are we still reverent to the crafts? Do we still honor the historical essence of the building industry and the skilled men and women who put the work in place?

I see many indications that are very positive. For 32 years, I’ve been privileged to serve on craft apprenticeship committees where outstanding apprentices do work that is amazing, whether they got their training through the building trades programs, through a CMEF program or through an in-company program. Their results make you want to jump to your feet to cheer them; they bring great pride to our industry. Recent graduates of the Marek Workforce Development Program were recognized, ceremonially, like college graduates – the person and the coach. Reverence personified.

I also celebrate the progress of the C3 initiative and the great support and recognition it brings to the industry. The GHP, our city’s premier business leadership organization, showcases it as part of their Upskill initiative. These leaders see our industry preparing for Houston’s growth.

But there are still far too many examples of trade contractors exploiting their vulnerable, immigrant workforce – cheating them on pay and insurance protection for job injuries and cheating the United States on taxes. Others, who claim to be skilled trades companies, get their entire field workforce through labor brokers; they have no craft employees. They are charlatans in shells. Regrettably, they are called “contractors” too. Their presence in the industry diminishes all of us. No “cheater” is allowed to play in the big leagues of golf. Let’s ensure that same standard is used on the best commercial projects. Let’s remain reverent to the crafts.