Recruitment Equality As Glazing Contractors Look to Hire, Diversity is a Focus
Written By Megan Headley
At any given gathering of contract glazing professionals it becomes painfully obvious that the glass industry does not, at the ownership level, reflect the diversity that makes up this nation. Certainly there are more women (see page 28 in the February 2013 issue) and more diverse individuals leading glazing firms than we may have seen 30 years ago, but it has been slow going in obtaining equality at the executive level.
So what’s preventing diversity within the glazing industry?
The Ground Floor
Mike Schurr, director of education for IUPAT District Council 21 in Philadelphia, offers an argument that the lack of diversity at the ground level comes from a lack of familiarity with the glazing industry. Schurr points out that fewer incoming apprentices are as familiar with glazing as compared to other trades, making the glazing industry’s recruitment more of a challenge.
“If you’re in a vocational school, you know plumbing, electric and carpentry,” Schurr says. “They’re the three big ones that are in every program; they don’t have glazing programs out there.”
“That is true,” agrees Larry Brinker Sr., chairman and CEO of Brinker Group in Detroit. Brinker Group is the parent company of Universal Glass & Metals, and other subsidiaries. However, Brinker says a number of other factors contribute to the popularity of other trades over glazing.
“Look at the ratio between labor and material,” he begins. “A lot of times the material is a higher cost than labor. You look at the other trades and it’s flipped around the other way, where it’s really labor-intense, and you have to have more actual bodies working on jobs. That plays into the glaziers’ unions not growing, from a labor standpoint, compared to some of the other unions. I think this area isn’t as popular or as publicized, or I guess it’s not as sexy to be a glazier.”
While this provides only a partial answer to the problem as it stands today, improving minority recruitment among contract glaziers could be a first step to improving diversity among glazing executives.
Schurr, who also runs the council’s apprenticeship program, is taking on the challenge of promoting the industry among all students, and expects that as glazing demand returns to pre-recession levels, practices already put in place will continue to encourage minorities to seek employment in the trade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the glazing trade will grow 42 percent from 2010 to 2020.
However, ensuring that those hires include minorities is a challenge that varies from region to region.
“It is different region by region,” Brinker says of these efforts to promote diversity in hiring, as well as the success of those efforts. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, but the glazing union as a whole has not been a union that’s been on the upswing and growing. It’s been hard to incorporate more people into it when you already see so many people out sitting on the bench. But we do try.”
Recruitment is one thing, but what about the executive level? Why are fewer minorities finding their way to top management positions in the glazing industry at a time when the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) reports a record-level number of minority-owned firms?
One answer can be found in a 2010 MBDA report entitled “Disparities in Capital Access between Minority and Non-Minority-Owned Businesses: The Troubling Reality of Capital Limitations Faced by MBEs.” The report found that limited financial, human and social capital, as well as racial discrimination, were in large part responsible for the difficulty that minority-owned businesses, notably construction firms, have in obtaining the capital that make businesses run.
One of the difficulties in accessing capital was attributed to the fact that minority-owned businesses are found to pay higher interest rates on loans. In addition, “They are also more likely to be denied credit, and are less likely to apply for loans because they fear their applications will be denied.” As a result, the report states, “Minority firms are less concentrated in construction and manufacturing, which tend to have higher loan amounts, and are more concentrated in retail trades, which tend to have lower loan amounts.”
A minority business enterprise (MBE) certification can be a powerful boon in obtaining access to loans. MBDA explains: “Certification can significantly help your business gain access to government contracts. Whether you are just starting a business or your company is already established, you can drastically benefit from these ‘set aside’ contracts. There are several government agencies at the local, state or federal level which offer certification.”
A Crack in the System
However, like any government program intended to help, individuals who have learned to abuse the system have left a bad taste in the mouths of many general contractors when it comes to set-asides for MBEs.
For example, a September 2012 article in the Washington City Paper recounts how the certified business enterprise (CBE) EEC of DC received $120 million in public funds for school construction projects, then passed the work—and much of the money—onto the larger Forrester Construction. This legacy of the MBE’s early days continues to play out today in the handful of companies that essentially sell their CBE status to gain a job before passing the work onto a company more capable of handling the scope of work. The City Paper article pointed out “contractors have little reason to expand when they can make a tidy profit without doing any work or taking any risk by simply farming out their CBE points.”
This type of dealing has soured for many the idea of working with MBE companies. However, MBE status has provided more valuable help in building respectable businesses than it has in promoting corruption.
“MBE certification helped my business because, like most businesses, we started out as short-term thinkers,” recalls John Luckett, owner of Glass Designers Inc., an almost 30-year old glazing contractor based in Chicago. “We took advantage of our short-term thinking and turned it into long-term results by becoming certified as a minority contractor.” However, even today Luckett is quick to point out, “As a certified minority firm, we carry out our own contract responsibilities by actually performing, managing and supervising all our work.”
Brinker agrees that MBE certification has been instrumental in his company’s development over 23 years, “especially in the city of Detroit with the different executive orders that are in place.” As Brinker explains, “It has really helped us to have and maintain a steady flow of work, and it’s been beneficial to the point that, over the years, we’ve been recognized as not only being a minority company but it’s given us a chance to build a reputation as being a good group of companies. The minority piece becomes a plus to whoever is hiring us to do a project,” he says.
Having seen the value in that certification firsthand, Brinker Group aims to work with suppliers that also promote diversity.
“We are a MBE group, and within that we try and work with as many minority subcontracting companies as we can that can supply services to us,” Brinker says. “It’s always been a big push to not only use local companies, but to include local minority companies that are employing minority workers.”
Recruiting for Diversity
Other ugly barriers have stood in the way of minority business-ownership. Even if attitudes toward discrimination have improved in the construction industry, research reflects that there still are difficulties for minorities in establishing those oh-so-critical relationships that can lead to big contracts in construction.
According to the MDNA report, “Discrimination against minority businesses may occur before these businesses are even created. Previous research indicates that minorities have limited opportunities to penetrate networks, such as those in construction. If minorities cannot acquire valuable work experience in these industries then it will limit their ability to start and operate successful businesses.”
From that regard, recruitment of more minorities is an even more essential piece of the puzzle.
“I can’t speak to what other companies are doing in the industry, but Harmon is committed to providing equal employment opportunities for all applicants and employees when we recruit and promote people into all job levels,” says Rick Kraus, vice president of human resources at Harmon Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minn. As one of the country’s largest glazing contractors, the company has put a number of recruiting resources into place designed to encourage diversity in hiring.
“We have a number of recruiting resources: we post positions with the state department of workforce; we use Monster’s job board, which has a diversity partner network; we do college recruiting, from nine or ten different schools across the country; we post positions with the National Association of Women in Construction; we post positions with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and we work with our two national unions, the glaziers and the ironworkers, encouraging them to recruit for diversity. So diversity is certainly one of the criteria that we consider when we’re hiring and promoting individuals,” Kraus says.
“Glass Doctor and The Dwyer Group work very closely with the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) Diversity Institute minority programs, as well as hiring veterans through the IFA VetFran program,” says Mark Liston, president of Glass Doctor. “We encourage our franchisees to be active with both. We are also excited to see increased minority-owned franchisees as we continue to grow.”
Brinker Group also works to ensure that the union from which Universal Glass & Metal hires has diversity as a priority.
“We’re not here to discriminate against any race of people, but we do recognize that a lot of our projects and opportunities we have had were because we are a minority group,” Brinker says. “Often we are somewhat limited when it comes to [hiring] because we go to the hiring hall, being the union contractor. But we do look for and we do search out the minority workers that are already a part of the union. We have a very active and aggressive plan to try and incorporate brand new apprentices into our company and give them a chance to complete an apprenticeship and to become journeymen workers.
“It is our goal that we try and reflect the make-up of the city of Detroit as much as possible when it comes to how our workforce looks,” Brinker says.
The Union’s Part
Many glazing contractors, of course, rely on the diversity promotion efforts of their local union to meet regional requirements. “That’s why they became signatory,” Schurr points out.
Schurr’s district council recruits through a number of unique programs. Among others, council members work with the Philadelphia Apprentice Coordinators Association (PACA), which represents each of the different unionized building trades in the area. “Through that organization most of these groups have had career fairs and [events] in various places: in women’s groups, community centers and high schools, etc.,” he says. “Three or four times a year we send out notification to those groups saying ‘don’t forget we’re accepting applications,’ so we reach out to them.”
The council also runs a vocational intern partnership (VIP) in cooperation with the local school district. The program allows high school juniors and seniors to come to the training center one day a week for 15 weeks in lieu of a vocational day. “They come here for a full 8-hour day and learn about the building trades and labor industry and safety and blue trends, and they actually get some hands-on training with our apprentices,” Schurr says. “I would say about 85 to 90 percent of those folks coming through that program are African American or Latino, so that’s become a large draw for us, because they’re not getting this training in school. They actually don’t learn about the trades in school, especially the glazing industry,” he adds.
Finally, the council recently received a $5.5 million Green Jobs Innovation Fund Grant. This four-week program focuses on leadership and communication, safety, an intro to the trades and the “green advantage.” According to Schurr, “It’s going to be pretty big in the glazing industry.” He adds, “I’d say probably we’re running [the program] in eight different locations in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; in those two areas probably 90 percent of the participants are African Americans or females. We’re getting a pretty big interest level from diverse groups that had never really heard of us before that thanks to this grant.”
On top of all of that, the traditional word of mouth remains a strong recruitment tool for this and other unions. “Philadelphia … is obviously an urban area and there’s a high African American population here so just by attrition, if you will, we have a lot of applicants that are from those communities.”
According to Schurr, the union works hard to ensure diversity, especially among the glazing trade where the perception remains that there are few minorities in the field.
“We go above and beyond,” Schurr says. “A lot of the trades, it’s really easy for them to say ‘hey, we take applications on the second Monday of every month and whoever applies and does well on the test and in the interview, they get ranked and that’s it.’ We’re running programs that actually take folks of color and females; we’re running special programs for them so that when they do come through the application process then they are scoring much higher than somebody walking off the street. It’s extremely important to us. We’re a really diverse organization.”
What the Bid Demands
Even as contractors aim to encourage diversity within their ranks, some bids today are including new labor stipulations.
“A lot of the projects [glazing contractors] are bidding that involve municipal or federal or state funding, public works projects if you will, have begun to write into these contracts that they require X amount of people from that zip code where the job is being built,” Schurr explains. In some regions it’s simpler than others to accomplish those two priorities through the same recruitment techniques.
“If it’s in the city and it’s an inner city, and it’s at say 35th and Market, probably 90 percent of the people there are African American. [Project managers] want to have at least five apprentices or workers who live in that zip code on that project.” He adds, “Employers need to let us know when things like that are in those contracts and job specifications.”
Brinker agrees. “Here in the city of Detroit when there are projects that have city money involved in them, we have to meet the 50 percent residency rule. So if you meet that, nine times out of ten the people who you’re hiring are minorities because the city is 85 percent minority.” Plenty of regulations exist to keep contractors throughout the construction industry in line when it comes to their hiring practices.
“Being a union apprenticeship committee, the Department of Labor comes in and audits us annually, and they’re always trying to make sure that we have minorities and females,” Schurr says. He adds, “Not to mention, it’s just fair.”
That’s what it comes down to, after all. Hiring and encouraging a healthy workplace that retains a diverse group of employees that reflects the surrounding community at large promotes an all-inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued—and bring value to the jobsite.
“I believe diversity as a concept focuses on a broader set of qualities than race and gender,” Luckett says. “Not only the glazing industry, but all industries should recognize the unique contributions that individuals with many types of differences can make in creating a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.”
More than Good Luck Helps One Business Owner Thrive
In the words of John Luckett (right), owner of Chicago-based Glass Designers Inc., “I believe diversity as a concept focuses on a broader set of qualities than race and gender. Not only the glazing industry, but all industries should recognize the unique contributions that individuals with many types of differences can make in creating a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.”
His recognition of individuals for their own unique attributes has played a significant part in the growth and success of his company, which he started almost 30 years ago. He began his career at the order desk for a company called Cadillac Glass, which handled installations as well as fabrication and wholesale work. Throughout the course of his career there he became involved with both the sales and production side of the business, so when the company was sold in the 1980s he decided the time was right to start his own company. In the early days he worked around the clock and built his business customer-by-customer and employee-by-employee into the highly regarded and successful venture it is today. Glass Designers Inc. is today a full-service contract glazing firm focusing on both public and commercial projects in the Chicagoland area.
He has also taken action to help ensure the growth and future successes of his company. For example, Glass Designers Inc. holds a minority business enterprise (MBE) certification.
“MBE certification helped my business because, like most businesses, we started out as short-term thinkers,” Luckett recalls. “We took advantage of our short-term thinking and turned it into long-term results by becoming certified as a minority contractor.”
However, Luckett is quick to point out, “As a certified minority firm, we carry out our own contract responsibilities by actually performing, managing and supervising all our work.”
He continues, “We at Glass Designers Inc. promote diversity in hiring because we believe equal employment opportunity is the core concept that unifies diversity and affirmative action efforts that everyone should have equal access to employment opportunities.”
His hard work and efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2011 he was recognized by the Coalition for United Community Action - ORTC Inc. when he was named Minority Contractor of the Year in a program that included celebrities from the sports, entertainment and political arenas.
“I love what I do for a living and I guess I have a need to keep pushing myself to prove that I can do the things I think I can do,” he has said.
Megan Headley is special projects editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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