Something new and exciting is happening across the San Francisco landscape: Tower cranes are seemingly visible at every major intersection of the city. This welcomed change represents an influx of work for the Bay Area, which has seen its share of high unemployment rates, stalled construction projects and a hold on non-profit organizations’ ability to provide a prepared workforce to some companies in need.
About five years ago, Southland Industries, Union, CA, a national MEP building systems firm, began forecasting this impending work in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. We started to consider how union companies (who we hire directly from) would recruit talented, prepared and ready-to-work candidates for our projects. But beyond that, how would we support other efforts designed to help the construction industry as a whole?
What began as a mere compliance effort evolved into something much greater. At that time, Southland embarked on a new partnership with the CityBuild Academy, whose mission is to meet the demands of the construction industry by providing comprehensive pre-apprenticeship and construction administration training to San Francisco residents.
Benefits of the Trades
Due to specific stipulations of the City of San Francisco, approximately 30% of all new hires must be San Francisco residents. With nearly $300,000,000 in work over the next several years, Southland knew this would be daunting but achievable. We first met with the CityBuild administrative team and officially established the parameters of our newly formed working relationship. We committed to bringing a team of our employees, which typically included a foreperson and several journey persons, at least twice a year to speak to the current cycle of students. We would address what it takes to become successful in the trades and also perform a hands-on project in their facility.
Initially, this was undertaken as good faith effort. At one point, a significant project was on indefinite hold, so we had the option to stop participating with the bi-yearly trainings. However, the vision of Southland Construction Manager Mark Williams demonstrated that a partnership with CityBuild Academy was simply the right thing to do; we should continue to involve ourselves despite any current work conditions. Southland took that stance and continues to do so to this day.
The partnership has proven to be quite dynamic. Southland has the opportunity to host trainings at the CityBuild Academy facility in San Francisco, which requires approximately 8-12 of our employees committing three to four hours of paid time. We essentially use this time to guide a group of students in the steps of producing an end-product, answering their questions and identifying new candidates while concurrently performing an informal interview.
It’s a win-win. These students are able to touch and work with the tools and materials we fabricate and install every day in order to recognize if it is something they can see for their own career path. If a company is able to identify and influence a potential workforce, no matter how small that group is, that represents a win for the company as well as for the individual.
Path to Apprenticeships
Like any partnership, there will always be areas for improvement. Southland has successfully hired CityBuild Academy pre-apprentices and assisted others to become indentured apprentices within the local unions. Although not all of these new employees have remained with the company, the rate of success has increased over time as methods of the partnership have improved. Southland now participates in the initial interview process for incoming students. This allows us to ask the interviewee specific questions directly related to being successful within the trades. We gain insight into their current skill-sets and experiences, and we also learn why the trades have become their first choice as a career path. This information becomes imperative for successful longevity within any line of business. Not only does this represent the solid partnership between CityBuild Academy and Southland Industries, but it also represents the commitment required by trade partners to creatively assist and improve the current workforce entering the construction industry.
Each time that Southland Industries has the opportunity to enter the CityBuild Academy facility, we see it as a chance to hire untapped talent, support a great agency, but more importantly, impact a person with a life-changing career opportunity. We understand that this group is not for the misfortunate, but rather for those that simply may not have had the same privileges of others. That said, Southland Industries has become a better company because of our partnership with the CityBuild Academy, and the City of San Francisco is equally better off with more of its residents gainfully employed. We look forward to ongoing recruiting opportunities in the future with CityBuild Academy and welcome the potential to introduce new hires to our firm.
Henry Nutt is Division Sheet Metal Superintendent for Southland Industries’ Northern California Division. He is responsible for managing shop and field staff, assisting with project scheduling, personnel assignments and training, managing tools and equipment and project safety, as well as interfacing with the unions. He can be reached at [email protected]