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February 9, 2023
The construction industry is not known for its diversity. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 the construction workforce was 89.1% male and 87.3% white.
The pandemic, and the recession it precipitated, hit hardest in some of Seattle’s most challenged communities, which also happen to be areas with the most diversity.
For the past five years, Clark Construction Group and Lease Crutcher Lewis (Clark/Lewis) have been constructing the Seattle Convention Center (SCC) Summit project, a 1.5 million-square-foot standalone gathering space in downtown Seattle. Now complete, the building doubles the convention center’s event space and elevates Seattle’s position as a premier convention destination, spurring tourism and boosting the local economy in a time of immense need.
SCC, Clark/Lewis, and developer Pine Street Group partnered at the project’s onset to ensure the hiring of a diverse workforce, especially those disproportionately affected by economic adversity. The goal was to impact the local community helping ensure that people of all races, ethnicities and genders received opportunities to work and thrive in the construction industry.
The project’s emphasis on diversity was aided by the passion and commitment of the SCC board of directors and its operations leadership. Efforts to create a diverse workforce began a full year before a shovel hit the ground more than two years before the pandemic.
At its peak, the SCC project employed more than 1,200 employees each day and achieved overall workforce participation of 21.4% apprentices (34.7% of which were minorities and 11.7% were women). Apprentices worked more than 1 million hours on the Summit building.
Overall, the project’s workforce included nearly 32% minority employees, while nearly 30% of the workforce lived in Priority Hire zip codes, which are economically distressed areas of the region. The project team’s intentional diversity program provided economic and job relief to Seattle’s struggling communities and created long-term career paths for individuals through education and skill-building.
HOW DID THIS PROGRAM WORK?
The project team’s outreach program focused on two key areas: minority- and women-owned business participation; and workforce participation of minorities, women and apprentices. The project’s contracting structure required subcontracted work to be awarded to the lowest bidder. This made selecting minority- and women-owned business enterprises more challenging due to the size and scale of bid packages on a project of this magnitude. To increase small and diverse business participation, the project awarded more than $150 million to MWBE businesses compared to a goal of $80 million.
Building and implementing a diversity program that spurs meaningful change required full team commitment. Workforce diversity goals were set, and a program was developed to accomplish them.
Before construction, the team spent nearly a year working with union affiliates, advocacy groups (Ethnic Chamber Coalition, Tabor 100) and trade organizations (NAMC, The Black Collective, NAWIC) to inform the community about upcoming economic opportunities. Clark/Lewis subcontractors were also encouraged to hire diverse people.
The team recognized that a major challenge with diversity in the industry starts with a lack of awareness about opportunities for Black, Indigenous, people of color and women, as well as available job training. Clark/Lewis formed partnerships with organizations like ANEW, PACE, Youthbuild, and others to connect at-risk individuals with training and opportunities. ANEW’s and PACE’s pre-apprenticeship programs provide training and career connections for people interested in joining the architecture/engineering/construction fields. Many of the individuals ANEW and PACE serve are BIPOC, women, or were previously incarcerated.
Similarly, Clark/Lewis partnered with What’s Next Washington, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated people find careers and achieve long-term economic stability, to support the collection and analysis of on-the-job performance data of workers with conviction histories, helping to remove barriers to success in our industry.
Clark/Lewis tracked the program closely, monitoring each trade and subcontractor to understand strategies that were working and where it was necessary to double down on diversity outreach efforts. Tracking data was shared with other businesses in the industry to help more organizations adopt similar programs.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE COMMUNITY?
Clark/Lewis placed a high priority on hiring from priority zip codes or areas in the community with higher levels of unemployment or financial need. The Priority Hire program focused on participation from minorities and women at the apprenticeship level, which allowed a traditionally underserved population to use the knowledge learned at the project to build a career in construction.
“Clark/Lewis has been very intentional about this program from the start,” said Megan Clark, strategic partnerships specialist at ANEW. “They worked for months to sponsor a cohort to join the crews at the Convention Center. The goal was also to get subcontractors involved to help meet numbers and ensure people stay with those companies long-term. Someone could graduate from ANEW, start at the SCC and work enough hours to journey out. It is great on-the-job training and helps women and minorities build careers.”
WHY IS THIS PROGRAM SUCCESSFUL?
At the Summit project, the importance of a diverse workforce was driven by support from the Convention Center, Pine Street Group, the city of Seattle, King County, and the Seattle Building Trades.
While supporting and hiring minority- and women-owned firms is essential to the industry, enacting meaningful, lasting change requires focusing on both business owners and the “boots on the ground” the craft workers. This combined approach strengthens communities and builds lasting careers and a future workforce. By assembling a program that also focuses on the workforce, the project created careers for a larger group of construction workers.
“The scale and magnitude of the SCC addition project presented Clark/Lewis with a unique opportunity to develop a program that was the most impactful in terms of tangible growth for the community and local economy,” said Viki Bamba Chennault, director of public affairs at Clark Construction. “Clark/Lewis was proud and honored to work alongside local, diverse businesses and residents in building the Summit building and their respective resumes and portfolios as a result of working on the project.”
The Summit building created more than 6,000 construction jobs. Equally as important, the project’s diversity and inclusion program provided economic stimulus and job relief to Seattle’s most challenged communities when living-wage jobs were hard to find.
The hope for this workforce diversity program, and other programs like it, is to develop a long-term tool to help women and BIPOC individuals join and more importantly, build a career in the construction industry.
Brett Earnest, a division president at Clark Construction, leads the development and delivery of noteworthy projects across the Pacific Northwest, including the Sea-Tac International Arrivals Facility and the Seattle Convention Center Summit addition. Gary Smith, executive vice president at Lease Crutcher Lewis, focuses on mentorship, education and successful implementation of alternative contracting methods on commercial and industrial projects.