The Impact of Change
Every year, ironworkers gather for a wide-ranging event that brings together industry leaders, contractors and end users alike. The annual North American Iron Workers/IMPACT Conference took place February 24-27, 2019 at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. Conference organizers expected a record number of attendees at this year’s gathering themed, “The IMPACT of Change.” Conference agenda includes grassroots legislative advocacy and political updates, best practices for business plans, latest technology in the industry, cutting edge safety training and contracting strategies, among other topics.
The Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) places great emphasis on diversity as a core requirement to grow skilled labor, and it is a key component of the conference. IMPACT CEO Kevin Hilton believes that the more people know about being an ironworker, the more they’ll be interested in pursuing it as a career. That’s why the Iron Workers (IW) and IMPACT are making a concerted effort to reach out to Latinos, often using materials in Spanish (see interview below). “We should reflect demographics of our society,” says Hilton.
Latinos are responding to high wages and opportunities the IW and IMPACT offer for training and education. In some cases, ironworkers’ pay can be more than $100 an hour with wages, pension, annuity, and healthcare. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that overall employment of ironworkers is expected to grow 13% over the next several years, more than most other construction occupations. Currently, there are some 11,000 Hispanic ironworkers across the country.
“Diversity makes business sense and is the right thing to do,” affirms Eric Dean, IMPACT co-chair and general president of the IW. “I’m in the business as a labor leader to have a pool of skilled labor that the employers can draw on. There are so many millennials and Gen Xers who learned from their parents that to be successful, they need to go to college. Nobody really championed a career in the skilled trades,” Dean tells LATINO Magazine. If we continue fishing from the same fishing hole, knowing that we have a smaller pool of young people available to replace the outgoing baby boomer generation, we’re destined for contraction. We need to be broader and diverse to have a sense of fairness in the union.
IMPACT Co-chair and Ben Hur Construction Chairman William Brown echoes Eric Dean’s sentiments. “We all understand the importance of diversity, especially now. We’re competing with other industries in the U.S. and Canada for workforce. We’re doing everything we can to have a diverse workforce and to help our minority contractors.”
Joseph Matos, IMPACT’s director of advertising, marketing, branding and creative services, is applying his expertise in the multicultural arena. He played a crucial role in converting training materials into Spanish and showcasing diversity visually in as many marketing materials as possible.
“That is a beautiful thing to see,” says Matos. “What’s so important about this conference is that along with trend-setting changes that we are implementing across North America in safety and technology, we’re also highlighting diversity. It’s long overdue. The organization is more open to showing that everyone is welcome to the trade, no matter the ethnicity or gender. Minorities see what we put in marketing material about diversity and think, I can do this!
“It’s not just men anymore. More Latinas are coming in. It’s a great thing to see both Latinos and Latinas come from the shadows knowing they can do it. The great thing about our organization is that they’re embracing it and they’re showing it off. That’s why we’re called IMPACT, because we truly like to make an impact and help contractors grow, which in turn creates more jobs for ironworkers across North America.”
The diversity panel, “Diversity in our Contractors and IWs – Opportunities for Growth and Success,” took place on Tuesday, February 26th,11:20 a.m. -12:00p.m. Moderated by LATINO Magazine Editor Alfredo Estrada, it included panelists Linda Cwiak, chief administrative officer of Arcweld Industries; Richard Díaz, president of Architectural Unlimited; Frank Venegas, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ideal Group; Walter Washington, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Construction Company; and John Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Penn Services.
By Patricia Guadalupe
A Passion for Justice
IMPACT CEO Kevin Hilton graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a graduate degree in Industrial Relations from the University of Wisconsin. He later worked for the Teamsters, the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, and the Association of Union Constructors (TAUC). Those positions allowed him to see the industries from both the employees’ and employers’ point of view, an experience he brings to IMPACT. Recently, Hilton spoke with LATINO Magazine about “The IMPACT of Change.”
Tell us about this year’s conference in Las Vegas.
It’s grown into one of the premier construction and industrial maintenance conferences in North America. We started in 2008 with just a couple of hundred people and now we’re looking at 1400 attendees. One of the highlighted events is a panel of industrial owners, who will provide feedback on how we can better serve them. The other piece is technology. Technology has such a huge impact on the construction industry, so you must address it. We have 130,000 ironworkers and over 4,000 contracting firms. We will delve into technology pieces that affect operations. That is where people make money, so it is very important.
How do ironworkers out on the field use technology?
Classic examples are products like “Blue Beam” and Total Station. For example, we take Blue Beam products around the country and they teach contractors and ironworkers how to apply it in the field. Every time we announce a Blue Beam class it gets filled very quickly. There’s a real thirst out there.
Who attends the conference?
The IW leadership, IW district council presidents and business managers of local unions. We have a wide variety of employers from some of the biggest construction companies in the world to mom-and-pop firms. There will be many end users and industry leaders. We offer a variety of breakouts.
Tell us about the diversity panel.
It’s very exciting. Some minority and women-owned businesses will be on stage and talk about their role in the North American construction industry. We want to be part of the push for diversity. It’s about raising awareness and recognizing it’s overdue. We must recognize that the world is not only changing but changing rapidly.
Why is diversity so important to the Ironworkers?
We must create an atmosphere where Latinos working in the trade or aspiring to work in the trade start thinking that they want to be a bigger part of the American Dream and do it the right way. For us that means paying people a living wage, providing healthcare, and offering a dignified retirement. I think we have the best business model operating now.