Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Construction Trades

In 2021, NABTU commissioned ICERES to conduct a study of female and minority participation in the U.S. construction industry, with particular focus on historical trends in participation, successful initiatives to increase female and minority participation, and opportunities for future growth.


Chapter 1: Union DEI Programs

There are many successful and fully developed diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the union sector, from pre-apprenticeship programs for those new to the trades to policies supporting experienced journeyworkers.

Many union programs to improve diversity in the trades feature substantial partnerships with community-based organizations, industry leaders, and government agencies. Community organizations are particularly important in helping identify, recruit, and support interested workers from historically underrepresented groups.

Pre-apprenticeship training programs represent an effective means for unions to promote diversity in the building trades. These programs are important for improving diversity in the industry, as this often represents a first exposure to the skilled trades for many from historically underrepresented groups.

Union-supported pre-apprenticeship programs have established a significant track record of actively promoting diversity in the trades. Pre-apprenticeship enrollments using the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) reflect considerable diversity and arguably constitute the largest pre-apprenticeship program in any industry in the US.

Successful strategies for increasing completion rates typically include nontraditional means of support for pre-apprenticeship participants, including transportation assistance; case management for legal, housing and employment issues; mentoring from other people of color and women in the trades; tool and clothing vouchers; and referrals to, if not financial support for, child care services that feature early start times.


Chapter 2: Non-Union DEI Programs

There are firms and individuals strongly committed to DEI in the non-union sector, consciously engaging in actions to improve diversity and make the work culture more equitable and inclusive, but the authors highlight that current DEI practices in the non-union sector are best characterized as “efforts, not programs,” and that there is space for further development of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The recruitment and hire of diverse candidates was the primary DEI initiative engaged by the firms that were interviewed; this often included outreach to local schools and colleges, the armed services and various community organizations. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives in the Construction Trades 3 Recruiting female applicants was seen as particularly challenging, and some respondents used creative means to motivate interested candidates (e.g., internships, scholarships at local community colleges).

Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the non-union sector are generally less developed when it comes to employee retention and promotion. Retaining employees in the non-union sector has long been a challenge, and it appears to represent an obstacle to create effective DEI strategies in these areas.

Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the non-union sector appear to nearly always be a top-down directive issued by the chief executive of the company.


Chapter 3: Registered Apprenticeship Programs

Joint [labor-management] apprenticeship programs accounted for 75% of all construction apprenticeship registrations between 1999 and 2019.

Apprenticeship programs sponsored jointly by unions and contractors register far more female, Black, Hispanic and “other race” workers than non-joint programs.

While this is expected given that joint programs are much bigger overall, it is perhaps more notable that female, Black, Hispanic and “other race” apprentices also account for a greater proportion of all joint apprentices than their non-joint counterparts, both historically (1999-2019) and in the most recent year of the data (2019). In terms of both levels and proportions, these results suggest that unionbased apprenticeship programs feature greater gender and racial diversity than their non-union counterparts.

The most dramatic demographic transformation in apprenticeship programs has been the sharp increase in the Hispanic proportion of registrations, especially in union apprenticeship programs.

Although there has been modest growth over the last 10 years, women continue to constitute a small fraction of incoming classes of apprentices in both joint and nonjoint programs.

There is a strong negative correlation between the median national wage within an occupation and the proportion of Hispanic participants in the trade, both in the aggregate and separately in the joint and non-joint programs. This suggests that, independent of being union or non-union, Hispanic apprentices are disproportionately enrolled in programs for lower-paying trades.

More than half of apprentices leave their respective training programs prior to completion regardless of race, gender, or the joint/non-joint status of the program. Women exhibit lower completion rates and higher cancellation rates than men; among those who exit, women also drop out earlier than men.