How can the North Carolina construction industry resolve disturbingly high volumes of COVID-19 among minority construction workers?
The Carolinas Associated General Contractors (CAGC) held a “member’s talk” on June 5 and the strongest answers related to improving and enhancing communication with the workers about what they need to do to implement proper health and safety measures.
CAGC president and CEO Dave Simpson moderated the event, and wrote about it in a posting on the association’s website.
Simpson asked about communications strategies members were using — either on the jobsite or in the office for COVID-19 safety.
Edison Cassels, president of Edison Ford in Charlotte, pointed out that because the construction industry has a strong work ethic, it was challenging to get everyone to slow down and be safe.
“I learned that I needed to be a better communicator so everyone would understand how important it is to take the extra steps to stay safe on the jobsite and in the office,” said Cassels.
Patrice Gilmore, DPR Construction’s National Diversity and Inclusion Leader and president of the United Minority Contractors of North Carolina (UMCNC), said DPR Construction really had to step up their communication game particularly when it came to communication with workers in the field.
“We learned quickly there was a gap in our messages to craft workers since they did not have an e-mail account.” she said.
Both Cassels and Gilmore say all workers now have e-mail accounts.
Creating an inclusive communication strategy in response to a health crisis has presented an opportunity to many of the panelists, Simpson wrote. Lasenta Lewis, president and CEO of LLC Construction in South Carolina and past chair of the Minority Contractors of SC, said she works closely with non-profits that represent minority populations to get safety messages out within their communities.
Among communications strategies suggested by panelists:
- giving all employees an e-mail account so they could read all communications directly from senior leadership;
- communicating in both English and Spanish; and
- identifying minority leaders on the job sites that can give feedback on how the messages are being received.
Johnny Ortiz, diversity coordinator with Skanska, also recommended having someone on the jobsite that can speak Spanish.
“Many of our Hispanic workers travel to the jobsite together and several generations of a family may live in the same household so it is easier to spread an infection,” Ortiz said. “We must use multiple ways of communicating to overcome the language barrier.”
One tough question came from an audience member asking what to do when someone refuses to follow a policy such as wearing a face mask on the job or not following instructions to stay 6 ft. apart, Simpson wrote. All panelists strongly agreed that there should be a no tolerance policy for anyone not following safety protocols.
Brynn Huneke, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for AGC of America shared the new AGC Culture of Care initiative as one way to get employers to embrace the inclusiveness message.
Associated General Contractors of America’s (AGC) Culture of Care challenges leaders to take a bold and visible step towards ensuring their workplaces are welcoming, safe, and inclusive for an increasingly diverse and talented pool of workers. AGC is asking all member companies to join this effort by taking the Culture of CARE pledge. Once you sign the pledge, Culture of CARE provides companies with tools and resources to help establish a Culture of CARE in their workplaces. (Learn more at www.BuildCulture.org.)
CAGC has signed the pledge and is urging all Carolinas members to do the same. “But, it’s more than signing a pledge,” said Huneke “We all need to be committed to providing training and the resources needed to ensure the workplace is inclusive and safe for everyone.”
When asked “where do we go from here” in promoting inclusiveness, Edison Cassels acknowledged there’s still a lot of work to do. “Our minority firms in particular are struggling from the pandemic and need help”.
Patrice Gilmore encouraged everyone to begin preparing for the second wave adding that “we need to figure out what worked and what did not. While the virus is a terrible thing a lot of good has come from this and we don’t want to go back to what we were doing before because we’ve learned so much since then,” she said. “Keep listening and put yourself in someone else’s shoes”, urged Johnny Ortiz. “When leadership shares messages of inclusiveness people take it seriously.”
Simpson wrote that CAGC will be continuing the conversation by assigning next steps to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee led by staff member Betsy Bailey. There will also be a strong effort to reach out to members encouraging them to take the Culture of Care Pledge.
“People just want to be heard,” Lasenta Lewis remarked at the end of the panel discussion. For the construction industry, listening to all points of view and encouraging inclusive conversations is not just the right thing to do, it may also save lives, Simpson wrote.