Duluth builds partnerships to expand access to construction jobs
The city's community benefits program seeks to break down barriers to employment.
The city of Duluth has spent the past year working with community partners to broaden the construction workforce pipeline.
In July 2018, the Duluth City Council passed a "community benefits" policy to help women and socially disadvantaged people gain access to employment in the construction industry.
Last summer, the city launched the program, run through the Duluth Workforce Development department.
"The aim of community benefits is to make sure that when the city is investing in construction work that it's generating workforce and economic benefits for everyone in the community," said Elena Foshay, director of workforce development.
The program also serves as a tool to help the city's workforce development team partner with contractors and unions, Foshay said, especially as Duluth heads into another busy construction season and as the region prepares to see about 30% of trade workers retire in the next several years.
The program seeks to break down barriers to employment for people who fit the eligible worker definition, which includes women, people of color, low-income workers, people who are homeless, at-risk youth, disabled veterans, public benefit recipients as well as people with a criminal background.
"Those are the folks that are currently underrepresented in the construction industry," Foshay said.
Last year, 15 projects around the city included community benefits in their contract specifications. Out of all hours spent working on those projects, about 16% were performed by eligible workers. That translates to 2,436 work hours.
Last year's goal for the program was to achieve a total of 10% of work hours performed by eligible workers and for half of that to be performed by women specifically. Only about a quarter of that number of work hours was performed by women.
"So we were just under halfway to the goal," Foshay said.
The goal set for 2020 was to bump the percentage of work hours performed by eligible workers to 12%, a marker that was already met in 2019.
With upcoming construction projects, including road construction, the Twin Ports interchange project and the continuation of Essentia Health's Vision Northland project , Foshay said construction jobs will be in demand. Still, many of those jobs can be "highly competitive."
Workforce Development's role in connecting people to those jobs, Foshay said, is making sure more people are exposed to construction as a viable career path and supporting them through the application process.
Annie Harala, business development and communications manager for Northland Constructors, said that the community benefit program brings all perspectives to the table.
"At Northland we appreciate sitting at the table with a lot of other large contractors, with unions, with the city, the community organizations that are there," Harala said. "It really takes us all to address the upcoming workforce shortage."
On behalf of the contracting company, Harala said Northland plans to stay involved in the program and is impressed with the process of bringing people together to address issues surrounding economic opportunity and potential in the construction industry.
Next week, a construction career fair called "Construct Tomorrow" for area high school students will take place. The fair will be open to the public Tuesday evening.
If you go
What: Construct Tomorrow
When: Tuesday, Feb. 25, and Wednesday, Feb. 26; from 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday; the public can learn more at the CareerForce table.
Where: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center