Back in 2005, after the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, construction employers knew they needed to act—and fast—to start training a new workforce to rebuild the Gulf Coast. The labor shortages and the overwhelming property damage presented a daunting challenge. Everyone, even people who’d never held a hammer, would need to put on their gloves and get down to work.
The Business Roundtable, an association of 160 chief executive officers, led the charge to train 20,000 new construction workers in the region by the end of 2009. It forged a public-private partnership, the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative (GCWDI), to support entry-level training in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama with funding from individual companies as well as the U.S. Department of Labor and national emergency grants.
The GCWDI needed a leader who could work cooperatively with local businesses, construction trade groups, labor unions, community organizations, academic institutions, and federal, state and local governments to achieve this goal.
As a champion for workforce development and training throughout his career, Tim Horst stood out as a top choice to become program director.
“I have always had a special interest in workforce development,” says Horst, who recently retired as president of Becon Construction Company, Inc., a major industrial employer in Houston. “In a previous assignment, I was manager of a construction resource development and technologies organization. I applied this experience directly to my assignment on the GCWDI.”
Through Horst’s hard work and commitment, the campaign already has exceeded its goal. The GCWDI trained more than 21,300 workers by the end of 2008.
For this outstanding accomplishment, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) awarded Horst its prestigious 2008 Contractor of the Year award.A Gulf Coast Leader
Horst began his construction career as an employee of Becon’s parent company, San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation, after receiving an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of California in 1971. In 1980, he earned his master’s degree in construction engineering and management from Stanford University and rejoined Bechtel in 1981.
Horst’s visible talent earned him positions as a team leader for several major projects during a nearly 30-year span, with his most memorable long-term assignment being the construction of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.
Horst was named president of Becon Construction in 2005 and led the company to successfully construct several mega-projects in the oil, gas and chemical industry. Currently, the company is the primary contractor
for the Motiva Port Arthur Refinery Expansion project, which employs more than 3,000 people in the Houston area. The project will double the size of the existing refinery to a capacity of more than 600,000 barrels per day.
Becon opened a one-stop, state-of-the-art employment and community center in Port Arthur to staff the Motiva project.
In 2007, the Texas Workforce Commission named Becon its Employer of the Year, praising the company for its efforts to partner with educational institutions to train and employ the local southeast Texas workforce.
“My motivation and my greatest joy are seeing large, complex projects come together,” Horst says. “I don’t believe that I would receive the same level of personal satisfaction in any other industry.”‘GREAT’ Work
The recruitment arm of the GCWDI, the Get Rewarded for Education and Advancement Training (GREAT) campaign, is attracting thousands of new employees interested in gaining the skills they need to join the construction workforce.
Education programs in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas helped fill labor shortages during the last construction boom, providing able hands for several local firms. Some programs still have waiting lists for students interested in the free training.
“I’ve had a number of positive experiences meeting the students during my time with the GCWDI,” Horst says. “A couple that stand out include two young men I met at a Baton Rouge training center who drove 120 miles roundtrip each day to take advantage of the training program. Their motivation and energy were contagious.”
Some individuals use the program to transition into careers that offer better salaries and growth opportunities than their previous jobs.
“I also recall meeting a middle-aged woman who was cleaning hotel rooms prior to entering the construction training program and was looking to improve her life. Speaking to her gave me an indication of the positive impact the training was having on people’s lives,” Horst says.
The training, conducted by National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)-certified instructors, includes four-week courses covering safety and entry-level construction skills like framing, plumbing and electrical theory.
Horst says his partnership with the NCCER is pivotal to the program’s success. “In developing the execution plan, my first effort was to reach out to people I knew in the industry,” he says. “The first person I called was Steve Greene at the NCCER, who has been extremely helpful in the implementation of the program.”
Horst also credits the leadership of GCWDI co-chairmen Chad Holliday, recently retired CEO of DuPont, and Riley Bechtel, CEO of Bechtel Corporation, for coming up with a proactive, hands-on solution rather than one that simply delegates federal funding.
Fostering partnerships with multiple stakeholders was essential in the cross-state effort.
Most recently, the GCWDI partnered with members of the Home Builders Institute to fund entry-level construction training for residents to participate in the rebuilding of the C.J. Peete Housing Development in New Orleans. The project stands out in a region otherwise criticized for being slow to rebuild after the hurricanes.
Funded by a grant from JP Morgan Chase, the New Orleans project is coordinated by Urban Strategies, a development company that seeks to exceed mandatory Section 3 federal hiring requirements for the construction of the public housing project. The Lindy Boggs National Center for Adult Literacy provides residents job readiness and life skills training.
Local response was strong in 2008, with all 21 training slots filled by C.J. Peete and Central City residents and 100 individuals on the waiting list for the job screening this past February.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans hopes to expand the program and replicate its success at other city development sites.
Other GCWDI training programs are funded and managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Moore Community House in Mississippi, TrainingU in coordination with the Mississippi Department of Employment Services, ABC’s Pelican Chapter in Baton Rouge, the Houston Construction Careers Initiative and Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Ala.
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College are providing important classroom training as well.
“I think the GCWDI is a good model for future training and response to labor shortages, and it’s unfortunate that we can’t get such a joint effort moving when we’re not in times of crisis,” Horst says.
Horst calls the program an example of merit shop construction at its best. “The real benefit to me as a construction manager, under the merit shop philosophy, is that we can recruit from the whole spectrum of the workforce, across sectors and organizations,” he says. “The GCWDI shows that we can create a unified team, and reward employees based on job performance, and it works really well.”
As a long-time friend to ABC and the NCCER, Becon Construction continuously provides experienced craft instructors for construction technical schools. As a result, the organizations responded quickly when Horst called on them for help.
“The one organization that really stepped up to the plate was ABC and the chapter presidents in the Gulf Coast,” Horst says. “ABC has been a strong driver in this initiative and can stand proud of its engagement.”
Horst accepted ABC’s Contractor of the Year award at the 2009 National Convention in Honolulu.
This year, the Business Roundtable will transfer sponsorship of the GCWDI to the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT). Using the framework built by Horst and his team, CURT plans to launch a Construction Workforce Development Center to champion workforce recruitment and development nationwide.
GCWDI partners and supporters include the American Association of Community Colleges, ABC, Associated General Contractors, Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, Construction & Maintenance Education Fund, Construction Industry Roundtable, Construction Users Roundtable, Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance, Greater New Orleans Business Roundtable, Greater New Orleans, Inc., Home Builders Institute, Houston Business Roundtable, Houston Community College System, Lake Area Industry Alliance, Louisiana Chemical Association, Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Louisiana Department of Labor, Louisiana Recovery Authority, Louisiana Workforce Commission, Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, Mississippi Department of Employment Security, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Contributors to the project include a wide range of companies and organizations, including A. O. Smith Corporation, Accenture Ltd., Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., American Express Company, American International Group, Inc., Bechtel Corporation, Business Roundtable, Chevron Corporation, The Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy Corporation, DuPont, Exxon Mobil Corporation, FedEx Corporation, Fisher Scientific International Inc., General Electric Company, McKesson Corporation, NCCER, National Gypsum Company, PB Foundation, Pfizer Inc., The Shaw Group Inc., Washington Group International, Inc. and Xerox Corporation.