Things are tough in the construction industry these days. There is, however, a silver lining in this dark cloud. I believe that in the long term many construction companies, and the Latino workers, will be better off than we were before.
The current shakedown in the construction industry allows for two very important things to happen that are to the benefit of both the organization and the workers. It allows companies to refocus on training their workforce for the long term and it helps clean up the subcontractor industry.
Refocus on Training the WorkforceThe present shakedown allows established construction companies to refocus their efforts on the proper development of a trained, skilled and long-term workforce.
The bubble has burst on the construction industry, and we are seeing many companies coming back and retrofitting their own approach to recruiting, hiring and training.
This is a very good thing in the long run, both for the companies and their Latino people. For too long, companies were simply hiring “warm bodies” to fill positions that simply required someone who could do the physical labor. Many companies are now rethinking this flawed approach to business.
In the short term, this is a very tough situation for Latinos. Many workers have lost their jobs during this pinch. Others have had to look for lower-paying jobs. The fact is that a lot of people were hired as part of a “team” during the boom times and now find out they were closer to the bench or being kicked off the team than they thought.
I know of one person who told me he was making $16 and hour hanging drywall but now works on a landscape crew making $8 an hour. No matter how you cut the grass, that is half the money as before and puts a serious strain on the family budget.
The good thing here for both Latinos and corporations is that now there is an opportunity to refocus our efforts to recruit, hire and train a workforce that is both skilled and long-term. Hopefully, more executives than not have learned the necessity of building a company that is both balanced and stable. This means building organizations that have sustainable and healthy growth, not runaway growth driven by external market factors. The executive focus should be on the long-term health of the organization, not short-term profits.
Cleaning Up the Subcontractor IndustryMany Latino subcontractors have been driven out of business. Call me crazy, but for many workers this is a good thing in the long term.
The subcontractor industry, much of which operates under very poor business practices, is being weeded out. In the boom times, contractors were hiring whatever crews they could find.
Many of these were subcontractors who operated their businesses in very flawed and sometimes illegal manners. I know of many who would bill the general contractor and then pay workers in cash. Of course, no regard for tax laws or the like was evident. I am glad that these types of people are being driven out of business by a slow market. This is healthy. They were and are unhealthy.
I recognize that this segment of employers has produced many jobs, but they are typically not stable jobs, and often the employees are not treated well. I am of the firm opinion that Latinos who open businesses should function within the confines of the law, as well as be held accountable for their business practices by the general contractors who employ their services. I have heard many contractors say it was not their concern. But, of course, it is their concern. Any time we are knowingly a part of a system that is illegal and bad for people, it is our concern.
I am of the belief that distributors of construction-related products could play a strategic role in helping these subcontractors learn to operate more professional and profitable businesses. The distribution centers are a direct point of contact for the subcontractors. They have to purchase materials and they do so at the distribution outlets. I would like to encourage all major distributors in the country to consider the development of this type of value-added training program for Latino subcontractors if they do not presently conduct one. The business logic is sound; we teach them how to operate more successful businesses which in turn translates to solid and profitable companies who become long-term loyal clients.
Many times, in the existing subcontractor world, workers are paid in an illegal cash system and little if any job skills or safety training is offered. The workers have been exploited and Latino leaders should speak out against these practices, even if the majority of these subcontractors are other Latinos. This lack of training is also one of the main sources of safety accidents among the Latino workforce.
Contractors should require minimum standards of training along with proper and legal payment of the workforce. Unfortunately, in many cases relating to the labor force, we have immigrated the same patrón attitudes and practices from some of our native countries.
Personally, I view the current shakedown in the construction industry as a good thing. I have spoken with and worked with many leaders in this industry and find it refreshing to hear them talking so much about using this time to develop better recruiting and hiring systems, better training systems and overall better companies. I encourage you to do the same! It will make you a stronger organization with higher long-term value.
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