Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties are developing fast. Metro, the regional government for the three counties, has estimated public agencies in the area have more than 80 major construction projects in the works.
But there are equity gaps. A 2018 study commissioned by Metro and the city of Portland found the pool of construction workers set to carry out this development is largely white and male. One-fifth of the people working nonresidential construction jobs in the region were people of color. Just 4% were women.
On Thursday, the Metro Council unanimously voted to approve guidelines they hope will change these numbers by benefiting women and people of color who want to enter the construction industry.
“We have had a system of institutional racism and sexism in our construction trade for generation after generation after generation,” Councilor Sam Chase said. “This is an opportunity to make sure that there's a level playing field. To make sure that folks have the support that will allow them to be successful on their own in joining the workforce.”
The guidelines lay out a series of goals that Metro will aim to move toward with future construction projects. These goals include offering work site harassment training and ensuring a minimum of 14% of total work hours are performed by women, a quarter by people of color, and one-fifth by apprentices. Metro intends to monitor its progress through a software system that will track metrics such as demographics, wages and hours worked.
Raahi Reddy, the director of Metro's diversity, equity and inclusion program, said she expects these goals to become a reality on construction sites over a seven-year ramp-up period.
“Tomorrow we can’t have 14% of all work hours done by women. The market and workforce doesn't bear that right now,” she said. “In seven years, that's where we want to get to. Then we configure our goals for the next period.”
Metro hopes 14 other agencies will join them in approving these goals in the coming months. These partners are all part of a work group that aims to figure out how to retain women and people of color in the construction trades.
Reddi said Prosper Portland, Portland’s urban renewal agency and a member of the work group, has already passed the framework. She said the other 14 agencies — the city of Beaverton, the Beaverton School District, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Home Forward, Multnomah County, North Clackamas School District, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Health Science University, Port of Portland, city of Portland, Portland Community College, Portland Public Schools, Portland State University and TriMet — are all in the process of discussing the goals.
The hope, Reddi said, is that all these jurisdictions will adopt the framework by the year’s end. The agencies who have adopted the guidelines will then come together to form a regional collaborative.
Reddi said it’s unprecedented in the United States to have different jurisdictions walking in lockstep to tackle construction workforce equity.
“Even if we have four agencies working together at the same time on this, it would be huge,” she said. “If we’re all doing this together, we’re going to create a norm.”
All jurisdictions would be working off the same framework. But Reddi said different jurisdictions will have different “cost thresholds” for when the project becomes subject to the diversity goals.
Metro will not apply the guidelines to projects that cost between $50,000 and $200,000, though workforce diversity will still be tracked. Projects costing between $200,000 and $5 million will trigger a portion of the guidelines. Those costing more than $5 million will trigger all the provisions.