By Charles Hallman
There is nothing new about complaints from construction contractors and subcontractors that they are unable to find enough qualified, skilled Black workers to meet the hiring expectations that come with publicly funded projects. Such complaints have surfaced over the years through city civil rights departments during their monitoring of public projects, and from the Metropolitan Council in projects like light-rail construction.
Recently, upon hearing such complaints again from a meeting of contractors at Summit Academy OIC, we contacted State Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay to ask how his department determines what reasonable hiring expectations should be and why this apparent gap persists between these reasonable expectations and the actual pool of skilled Blacks in the Metro area from which contractors draw their workforces.
Commissioner Lindsay recently announced new hiring participation goals for publicly funded projects: 32 percent workers of color in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, and 22 percent in other countries such as Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Washington, on state-funded projects totaling $100,000 or more. He presented his plan in a meeting with local contractors, including members of the local National Association of Minority Contractors Upper Midwest (NAMC-UM) Chapter.
During that meeting, the contractors questioned Lindsay on why he has tripled the 11 percent workers of color hiring goal previously set when general contractors on several area projects are having difficulty meeting current goals.
“He [Lindsay] was being asked to justify how he arrived at those numbers,” recalled NAMC-UM Executive Director Robert Woods. “That dominated a lot of the conversation.”
In an exclusive interview with the MSR last week, Lindsay said, “The goal itself is not used by the commissioner as a proxy for determining a good faith effort.” He further explained that for a particular trade there might not be enough workers of color.
“You may need a certain trade or skill level, and that may be one where [there are] so few people of color and women in that area that a good faith effort is going to fall short of the [goal]. There could be other projects in which achieving a goal of 32 [percent] is very realistic and it would be possible for a contractor to meet that goal.”
The new hiring goals “are more reflective of the number of people [of color] in the apprentice programs than [in] the various trades,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay pointed out that his office can’t legally force general contractors’ “good faith efforts” to hire more Blacks and other people of color, and he told the subcontractors group as much. “I don’t think all of the contractors understand that,” he said. “I think contractors [are] having trouble filling jobs not because they can’t find enough people of color, but because they can’t find enough people, period.”
“We are supportive of Lindsay’s goals,” said Woods of the NAMC-UM’s position. “They fit well for the organization. If he set these goals, then he is going to up the enforcement aspect so the new goals can be met. Otherwise it is just wasting time.”
Lindsay explained, “The Human Rights Commissioner set [hiring] goals at the beginning of the decade” using then-recent U.S. Census population demographics data and State Demographics Center projections.
“The State of Minnesota population is getting older, and the population that is getting older the fastest is individuals who are Caucasian. The two ethnic groups which are the youngest overall…are Asians and Latinos,” Lindsay continued, adding that the state’s Black population “is going to remain relatively flat” although increases are expected among African immigrant groups.
“There will be more people of color entering the workforce in the state of Minnesota over this next decade. I think that in the next couple of years we are going to see much more significant progress in hiring people of color,” Lindsay predicts.
However, he added that there is a “need to align what the new workforce will look like with the talent of the people who desperately are very interested and needing work. We do have a mismatch [in] job skills as it relates to what’s needed. There are positions right now in the Twin Cities [in] every industry which have been unfilled because we don’t have someone with the right talent to be able to do that type of work. It’s a challenge.”
He and other state officials also are suggesting that current training programs partner with local schools: “There are other individuals within the contracting community who said that they are very interested in joining with public schools to talk about creating an interest in trades positions and jobs in the sophomore, junior and senior years of high school,” noted the commissioner.
A local developer and management consultant for 12 years, Woods points out, “[General] contractors will have to start doing things differently, or a different system has to be developed.” He also believes that Blacks and other people of color should look “at the professional-technical side as well as the building trades side…to ensure that those goals can be met.”
However, a true commitment to hire more Blacks and other workers of color, especially in the Twin Cities area “never has been developed, and hasn’t grown naturally,” said Woods.
Lindsay also confirmed that his office will be involved in monitoring hiring for construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium construction: “Our department will be involved in auditing the good faith effort of contractors for that project.”
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