Duluth is in an exciting and unprecedented time. Investment from both public and private-sector partners is generating economic growth and creating job opportunities. We are proud of our community benefits program, which links public investment in economic development with a commitment to ensuring access to high-quality jobs in the construction industry. To achieve our goals and to keep up the momentum, we are invested in growing and expanding our local skilled workforce.
In his Aug. 26 column on Duluth’s construction-workforce needs, Tim Worke of Associated General Contractors of Minnesota in St. Paul challenged our community’s commitment to ensuring that investments in construction projects generate community benefits. He questioned our approach to leveraging upcoming construction projects to help grow and diversify the pipeline of individuals entering the construction trades. And he failed to acknowledge the active and collaborative partnerships between contractors, unions, community organizations, and the city to implement a successful community-benefits program that generates real results.
It is true that a career in the building and construction trades is not what many people perceive. Building-trades members are well-trained and highly skilled, thanks to a strong apprenticeship system that allows workers to earn while they learn through a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Indeed, this successful model is now being replicated in other industries. Both the Duluth and Northeast Minnesota workforce development boards are actively working to expand awareness about careers in the trades and to help more people take the first steps on a construction career path. The building trades are also doing their part and are proud that the 2019 apprenticeship class is more diverse than ever.
But not everyone has historically had equal access to careers in the building and construction trades in Northeastern Minnesota. Women, people of color, and disadvantaged individuals are far more than the “warm bodies” Worke suggested them to be. Women in particular have struggled to find their place in the trades. And while there have been many past efforts to recruit people of color, particularly indigenous Minnesotans, there is still work needed to reflect the diversity of our region. Both unions and contractors are committed to diversifying their ranks. But how will we know whether anything is changed if we don’t set goals and track progress?
The city of Duluth has built strong partnerships with the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council, as well as local contractors, to develop solutions that will address these inequities and ensure our construction workforce can meet the demand that will be generated by upcoming projects. We began with a goal and built a community benefits program that is centered on active collaboration between contractors, unions, and local workforce-development organizations to achieve that goal.
This collaborative effort is inherently local and does not reflect the opinions shared by Worke or others located in the Twin Cities who are out of touch with what’s happening in our community.
We are excited to be doing this work together. We believe that using public dollars to invest in private projects can and should leverage local job creation. And we look forward to exceeding our goals in the future.
Elena Foshay is director of Workforce Development for the city of Duluth. Craig Olson is president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council. They wrote this for the News Tribune.