Working to Accomplish the Diversity Goals of a Project

  • Jamie Creek
  • Senior Project Manager
  • Rafn Company

At Rafn we recognize the need for a strong outreach effort when it comes to identifying subcontractor partners for our projects. When project goals include robust diversity goals, that outreach becomes a crucial part of the successful project. Maximizing diversity is best done using a targeted outreach specific to the team’s goals.

The goals that contractors must juggle on each project are in areas such as Women and Minority-Owned Business (WMBE) qualifications, apprenticeship participation goals, prevailing wage requirements, and local hires within specific zip codes. On a recent project of mine, the subcontractor diversity goals included 25% of the total contract dollars awarded to Women and Minority Businesses. On a large project, there simply are not be enough interested and qualified MWBE contractors to perform the work. And the trades that employ the most minority workers are typically not minority-owned businesses as these businesses take a large amount of capital to run daily. The sad fact is that in today’s environment, many quality women and minority owned businesses do not qualify for the support from lending, insurance, and surety institutions needed to grow their businesses.

So how does a prime contractor overcome the challenge of trying to meet these goals for the project? Partnering with the project owner, associations that promote diversity, and the construction industry can go a long way to achieving these goals. Below are some ideas that could help:

Community Partners
Associations such as Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington, Emerald Cities Collaborative, and Foster School’s Ascend program all have access to minority contractors who are willing to work with contractors to improve their business. Reaching out to the neighborhood community groups could also be a good resource for employing small diverse subcontractors.

Lengthen Solicitation Times
Lengthening the time the prime contractor has to prepare solicitations will allow them to target more subcontractors to accomplish the goals of the project. While it is easy to fall back on your “go-to” subcontractors, it takes extra time to reach out and qualify new WMBE subcontractors. Most WMBE subcontractors are smaller firms that do not have staff directly committed to estimating. Rafn has a database of WMBE subcontractors that we have prequalified for our work but there is always a need for more. We can also utilize The State of Washington’s and the City of Seattle’s databases to reach and target new subcontractors. Once we contact the firm, there is still often a need to nurture the subcontractor and walk them through the bid process.

Increase Technical Assistance to WMBEs
Some smaller contractors could be certified minority subcontractors, but they may not know how to obtain the certification. They also may not know about producing the paperwork in the bid process or reporting wages during construction. Educating them about the process will give a comfort level to the subcontractor to be confident in bidding. By providing seminars to educate small contractors with this technical knowledge, we can help them take their business to the next level.

Review Contract Sizes and Scopes
Breaking down scopes of work into smaller bid packages will allow smaller contract sizes that the smaller contractors can manage. Breaking out the concrete flatwork slab on grade from the whole concrete scope of work as an example. The smaller contractors will have the ability to manage their workers and the quality of their work with smaller work packages.

Adopt “Quick Pay” Policies
While many contracts for the prime contractor give 30 days for payment, some subcontractors could be more successful if projects would allow more frequent pay periods – perhaps every two weeks. This would allow smaller contractors to pay their labor and free up debt.

As contractors and industry leaders, we can all do a better job helping, supporting, and leading WMBE subcontractors to become successful in this construction industry. By working with these companies, we increase our credentials and respect within the construction industry, and we help grow the industry overall by opening doors to new businesses who might not have had a chance.

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