Building Tomorrow: HACIA’s Member Development Initiatives Are Reshaping the Construction Industry

Jacqueline Gomez, Executive Director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), describes the crucial role associations play in anticipating and responding to workforce trends.

By Ewa Greenier, MPH, MBA, CAE

Jacqueline speaking at event

In today’s dynamic professional landscape, the role of associations in empowering and supporting their members’ professional development and workforce needs takes on a profound significance.

Jacqueline Gomez, middle, with colleagues at an event for HACIA.

Associations serve not only as catalysts for individual member development but also influence industry trends, thus shaping the trajectory of their respective professions. Jacqueline Gomez, Executive Director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), describes the crucial role associations play in anticipating and responding to workforce trends. By monitoring emerging technologies, market shifts, and evolving best practices, associations can identify the skills their members need to stay ahead. From tailored training programs to fostering a culture of continuous learning, we explore how HACIA  actively shapes the future of the construction industry, ensuring its members are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to navigate and lead change within their industry.

As a champion for equity in the construction industry, HACIA works to ensure the equitable participation of its members by promoting growth, quality of work, professionalism, and integrity. HACIA has built a strong community of over 400 members in construction-related industries, including general contractors, technology agencies, design services, and start-ups. Jacqueline Gomez spoke with us about HACIA’s mission and HACIA University
(HACIA U), which offers a suite of training and certification programs, providing opportunities for skill and network building and creating sustainable change in the construction industry.

How does HACIA work to promote equity in the construction industry?

“HACIA is a nonprofit organization that focuses on training and advocating for minority- and women-owned businesses in the construction industry. We are a champion for equity. We want the construction industry to better reflect the people in the communities where we work and live. That is our mission. HACIA advocates for diversity and equity in construction contracts, and not only in the hard hat construction space but also in the professional services areas such as architectural and engineering,” Gomez says.

Gomez highlights, “In addition to inclusion in contracts, we advocate by ensuring that our members have a seat at the table and they are in front of the policymakers and the key stakeholders. We want their voices to be heard, discuss business challenges, and influence change. We hope that facilitating these conversations evolve into fruitful discussions and develop solutions for overcoming barriers and needed change for the construction industry.”

What type of workforce training have you found necessary in the current economy?

When Gomez became HACIA’s Executive Director in April 2021, the Board of Directors wanted direction on how to elevate the organization and improve their existing, smaller training program. “Because of the brand equity and being an established organization, we were able to secure grants, with which we a created more robust training program on the workforce front and on the business diversity front,” Gomez explains.

“During the COVID pandemic, many industries shut down, except for the healthcare industry and the construction industry. Construction continued despite health threats due to a lack of rules around how to build during a pandemic. Buildings still needed to be built, and bridges repaired.  Construction workers were an essential workforce, creating a demand. Despite the demand, there continues to be a major concern about whether there is enough labor to handle it. In 2020, the unions had to call many of their retirees back because there was just not enough workforce to fill the required jobs,” she adds.

This was an opportunity for major impact. HACIA saw this time as a call to action not only to fill the gap but to diversify the pipeline. “Let’s help create that needed pipeline through construction industry pre-apprenticeship training programs. We developed three main workforce hands on training programs focusing on carpentry, electrical, and general contracting. These are pre-apprenticeship training programs, which allow individuals who have interest to get hands-on experience of what is required to work in the construction industry and provide them a preview of the work environment, requirements, and benefits. These programs run from three to four months and meet two to three times per week. While there are classroom and testing components, the value of these programs lies in the hands-on component and connections. Through HACIA’s network of construction industry leaders, we can leverage our network and relationships with our member organizations and bring cohorts directly to project sites. Trainees are given the opportunity to speak to the job site superintendent, put on helmets and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and walk the jobsite, and have hands-on exposure to equipment such as power tools. They visit various areas of the job site—sometimes they are on the roof of a building, or they are in the mechanical room, but they are learning from folks that are actually building and getting a sense of what it is like.”

Through this exposure, individuals may discover they’re suited for one role over another. For example, if an individual is scared of heights, there are many other opportunities in the construction industry, including the project management side. Notably, one program participant was offered a job as an assistant to the project manager on the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, along with another HACIA member. Additionally, trainees receive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and certification, making them more competitive when applying for positions in the construction industry. 

What support does HACIA provide to program participants?

HACIA is intentional in developing training programs and aims to meet participants where they are in terms of training. HACIA explored the possibility of providing a hybrid training program, but an in-person format works better for the industry. Construction occurs in person, and participants need to experience in-person, on-site training. On average, HACIA receives 100 applications for each cohort and carefully selects about 25 participants. There are typically three to four cohorts per year, strategically avoiding peak construction season in the summer. The program is state-funded and offered at no cost to the participant. It requires an interest and commitment to actively participate in the program. HACIA emphasizes these responsibilities and offers support services to set up participants for success.

“It’s not an easy industry, so participants need to set themselves apart from the rest to be hired after the training. The goal at the end of the day is to provide participants with the opportunity for a good paying, long-term career that they are proud of and can change the trajectory of their and their family’s lives,” Gomez describes. “During the application process, each applicant undergoes a phone screen. Before starting the program, we emphasize the immersive nature of the program and participant expectations, such as the need to have reliable transportation to make it in every day, on time. HACIA also provides financial assistance if needed, such as stipends for transportation, CTA bus passes, or assistance with childcare to help bridge the financial gap and support participant success in the program. We also make sure that participants complete their OSHA testing, participate in site visits, and encourage them to use our other services such as resume assistance, interviewing skills, and additional resources and study guides to help with testing.”        

What does the business diversity side of your training program entail?

HACIA’s business diversity training program addresses the needs of those who may be in the early stages of running their own business, and while they may know the construction or technical side of the business, they may need additional support for the business and administrative aspects of the work.

Gomez describes the program as, “providing individuals with the tools, resources, and network to running a competitive and successful business. Some of our training topics include bidding and estimating, project management, bonding and insurance or access to capital.  One of the biggest obstacles for small businesses is access to capital, therefore we work with business owners on ensuring that they have the required cash flow and are connected to proper resources. We educate business owners on how to recruit and build a dedicated team of project managers, estimators, foremen, and superintendents and equip their teams with required skills.”   

For business owners who transition from the project site to the administrative side of the business, HACIA offers a program called Executive Fellows, which is a one-on-one coaching experience for established business owners.  This is a grant-supported program that helps business owners identify and overcome obstacles and build skills to take business to the next level. It focuses on the legal, financial, operations, and marketing aspects of the business. The program is offered at no fee to the business owners and offers access to a subject matter expert who will work with the business owner on critical business areas such business development. This includes nailing down a great “elevator pitch”, business plan, branding, bidding, contract negotiations, and other various business aspects to help the business owner succeed. 

What impact have your programs had on the industry?

Before, during, and after a workforce program, HACIA surveys participants to gauge where they are and how confident they are in different areas of study. Gomez says that throughout the program, “we see that participants feel much more confident based on the education provided. For example, in one of the tracks, they speak to an attorney about contact negotiations. From this, it leads them to bidding more confidently and being able to manage their risk and negotiate their agreements. Overall, participants report the program was extremely beneficial to their business and that they have learned to manage their business more thoughtfully and conduct a risk analysis versus just signing off on agreements without asking the right questions or at least now they will have a subject matter expert that they can call.”

HACIA holds mixers for participants and coaches from the Executive Fellows program, developers, and other construction industry leaders as a networking opportunity and hopefully a potential contracting opportunity. “Since they have gone through our program, participants are better informed, prepared, and know what questions to ask of the construction industry leaders who could be ones negotiating with them on their next contract. We encourage participants to stay involved with HACIA, as we continue checking in on our program participants’ success and offering new networking opportunities to get them in front of more potential clients,” Gomez highlights.

HACIA’s ability to be agile and create new programs as needed proves very beneficial. For example, golf is a popular pastime among construction business owners, and many women business owners voiced that this is a skill they would like to learn. HACIA organized a group for women and brought in a golfing instructor to help learn golf basics. This group organically evolved beyond its original purpose and now “we build camaraderie amongst each other and create a safe space of just women to support each other. It started out with 12 women and now there are around 45 to 50 of us. We get together quarterly to talk about industry challenges, what it is like being a woman in the industry, and just be there and support each other through our challenges and celebrate our successes,” Gomez summaries.

Does HACIA have partnerships in curriculum development and program implementation?

“HACIA is really unique in the sense that you will not find another organization in the city or state that is a membership organization and provides such robust training programs in the construction industry. We rely on our members as our informants on industry needs and opportunities to expand our training offerings. For example, we heard that there is a need for more engineers. In this case, HACIA took on the challenge, and built a new training program for assistant project engineers. This will create a pipeline and put individuals on track to work in the engineering field without an Engineering degree but still have the option to pursue one should they decide.”  Gomez continues, “If there is a great enough interest, we will create the program. We have good collaborative relationships with our partners. We work with partners such as Institute for Workforce Education with Saint Augustine College (now Lewis University) to deliver the curriculum training. We also work with College of DuPage on the owner-to-CEO for construction program.  At Elgin Community College, we are going to roll out an HVAC program as we continue to see workforce needs in this area. For the future, we see a need for development training in green and sustainable construction. We have already rolled out some programming around solar panel installation and we are looking into installation of electric vehicle charging stations as these are newer to Illinois.”    

How do you foresee workforce requirements changing considering technological advancements and AI?

Gomez notes that HACIA has been discussing and exploring the role of expanding technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in the construction industry.  She notes, “We’ve seen significant technological advancements, especially the use of drones used to map, survey and inspect the worksite. 3-D construction print modeling and virtual reality tools offer the industry the ability to test designs. Construction professionals often view AI’s potential in blueprint and design part of the business. While AI’s impact is more pronounced in project management than on the job site, where hands-on labor prevails, its exact role in construction remains uncertain. It’s an evolving landscape, and we anticipate more insights to come.”

Conclusion

HACIA’s comprehensive approach to workforce development and business diversity is transforming the construction industry to meet evolving workforce needs. They provide comprehensive workforce support to individuals and business owners, supporting the career development needs of their members. Gomez’s leadership has propelled HACIA into a pivotal role, championing equity, fostering skills development, supporting career development, and creating a professional support network. HACIA’s leadership within the industry addresses the immediate and long-term workforce needs, cultivates a diverse talent pool, and provides ongoing support. HACIA is poised to expand its reach and actively shape the future of the construction industry. 

Celeste Smith, CAE, contributed to this article.

About the Author

Ewa is director of professional practice at the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology and a member of Association Forum’s 2023-24 Content Working Group.

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