LRTWorks pilot program shows signs of taking off

 

In January 2010, community stakeholders — unions, businesses, nonprofits, construction training schools and workforce professionals— met to envision ways to address barriers to employment for women and minorities on the construction of the Central Corridor. One solution they proposed was to provide information about CCLRT construction job openings so that qualified workers and contractors could find each other.

A pilot project funded by the Funders Collaborative through the Met Council became LRTWorks — an online resource that links women and minority job seekers with contractors in a way that can verify the good faith efforts of contractors to meet CCLRT project hiring goals.

Two years into the project, administrators are still assessing its effectiveness, but there are signs the LRTWorks model can have an impact well beyond construction jobs and the Central Corridor.

Roderic Southall, the Met Council Office of Diversity's lead staff on the Central Corridor project, describes LRTWorks as a “stock and fish” tool for the labor pool. The stocking connects people who need job skills with training resources and puts qualified applicants into the database. The contractors know they can fish there for workers who will help them meet hiring goals, making queries for specific skills like sheet metal workers or cold water pipe welders.

Prior to LRTWorks, contractors could seek minority and women workers in a variety of places, but there was no transparency in the search process or total view of the available workforce. If contractors didn’t make a hire, there was no way to evaluate the level of effort that went into seeking qualified applicants or whether anyone in the pool had the required skills.

The key to making the hiring process credible for all participants was accountability, says Roderic.

“Our job is to hold contractors accountable for meeting federal regulations required as part of their contract. On the other hand, this helps hold the community accountable to be part of the solution. If someone hasn’t put themselves in the database, it’s hard for them to come forward later and say the hiring process overlooked them.”

So far, 1435 job seekers are registered, 30 have received interviews and 14 have been hired as a result of LRTWorks connections. 34 union contractors and five non-union contractors use the database. Of that total, 23 of the contractors are working on public projects other than CCLRT.

Roderic stresses that the pilot program still has more than a year to run, and a longer analysis is required before he’s ready to declare it a success.

“For example, at what dollar value does this approach become cost-effective? We want to be sure it has a direct impact before we use it in other places, but there are also some no-brainers where it can be applied now.”

One of those was tying LRTWorks listings into Job Connect, a Ramsey County service that brings together a large database of job seekers, employers and workforce professionals and sends out email updates on job opportunities. Job Connect is a great tool for broadcasting job listings, but it does not measure compliance. LRTWorks tracks jobs criteria, targets candidates and follows up the results, so unions, community and contractors believe it’s a fair tool for all involved.

Another application will be on future LRT projects. Use of the tool is being written into the contract requirements for firms bidding on Hennepin County’s Interchange rail and bus transit hub near Target Field. LRTWorks will also be used in the Southwest LRT and for other transitway corridor projects that need help meeting hiring goals.

The Met Council Office of Diversity is actively trying to engage other municipalities to use the tool, because they have similar hiring goals and can benefit from the accountability measures. Other applications under consideration include professional jobs related to transit, such as planning and engineering, state highway projects and non-transit contracts overseen by the Met Council.

Roderic emphasizes the role played by constituent groups like Hire Minnesota and the trade unions to enrich the tool for job seekers. And while contractors on the CCLRT construction are close to meeting their hiring goals, he says many factors come into play beyond the impact of LRTWorks.

Still, the signs are encouraging — especially when contractors with other construction opportunities are asking if they can use LRTWorks in hiring for their projects.