Keeping The Best

By Liz Moucka | September 28, 2010

Teach Them English

Irene Zucker, a consultant and principle of VerbaCom® Executive Development in Plano, is president of the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., SHPE is the largest Hispanic technical organization of its kind in the U.S. SHPE's office of Advancing Hispanic Excellence in Technology, Engineering, Math and Science is based at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Zucker sees that some construction companies advance personnel from within, but most find it more economical to teach their English-speaking project managers to speak Spanish than to offer career advancing continuing education to their Spanish-speaking supervisors and crew leaders. One obstacle she hears from construction management is that their Hispanic supervisors have great skills and know their craft, but their English may not be good enough for further advancement.

"Send them to English class," she urges.

Maternity Leave

Linbeck is a nationwide facility solutions company offering a variety of construction management services since its inception in 1938. With offices in Texas, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, Linbeck has executed in excess of $1 billion in projects over the past three years.

Earlier this year, three of Linbeck's female field employees in Houston returned from maternity leave to received promotions. These three are among a growing number of women choosing careers, not just jobs, in the construction workforce. As companies like Linbeck recognize their value in a tight labor market, more women are moving up in the ranks. This change in the workforce underscores the challenge women face everywhere — how to successfully balance work and family.

Jennifer Oliverio was promoted from an engineering position to project manager. Rhonda Scott was promoted from secretary to office administrator. Both are assigned to the Rice University Collaborative Research Center project. Elsewhere in Houston, Lorena Zbranek was promoted from engineer to team manager on the Baylor College of Medicine and Hospital project.

"Naturally, being pregnant required me to go to the doctor a lot, especially toward the end of the pregnancy," said Rhonda Scott. "My supervisor understood this, and had no problem with me having to come in late, taking a long lunch, or leaving early. My supervisor allows me to alter my schedule every now and then."

"Linbeck has for many years had the goal of being the kind of place where anyone would want to work, which supports our company values, as well as the business. We have also tried to help all of our employees strike the right balance between work and family," said Quincy Hodge, vice president of human resources at Linbeck.

Tight Employment Market

In Midland-Odessa with its less than a 3-percent unemployment rate, Jones Bros. Construction has to make retaining good employees a priority.

Terry Bryant of Jones Bros. Construction in Odessa admitted, "It's a tough market. We can't hire enough field mechanics. The oil field has been booming the past two years, so it's difficult to recruit and keep people.

"We treat our employees like one big family," Bryant continued. "We pay them well and we help them when they have problems. We offer incentives for our more mature workers to stay with us and to bring in new employees. We also pair our more tenured operators with younger operators to help train them."

Generation Differences

The older and younger generations — the Baby Boomers and the Generation X-ers — have completely different motives that encourage them to stay with an employer.

Wade Vakulick is the safety and industry relations director of the Oklahoma College of Construction, where 25 percent of their students are Texans. He explained, "The Boomers have traditionally been motivated by pay, benefits and doing a job well, whereas the Gen X-ers place more emphasis on training and education. They are more likely to stay if they feel the employer is investing in their training, even if it is only a quarterly training session. Everything is high tech now and they want to keep up with the latest technologies. A lot of people think Gen X-ers are lazy, but they're not. They get bored easily and need new challenges."

As an employer savvy in the marketplace, there is an opportunity to create an environment, not just hire day labor, and an opportunity to promote construction as a career skill, not just a dirty job.