Jorge Quezada (he/him) is the Vice President of People & Culture for Granite Construction, one of the largest full-service general contractors, construction management firms, and construction materials producers in the U.S. The 100-year-old company employs thousands of tradespeople and professionals across the country. In this episode, Jorge explains how a focus on D&I helps Granite compete for top talent in the construction industry.
[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome to including you. I’m Amy C. Waninger. My guest today is Jorge Quezada, Jorge Quezada. (he/him) is the Vice President of People and Culture for Granite Construction. One of the largest full service, general contractors, construction management firms, and construction materials producers in the U.S. The 100 year old company employees, thousands of tradespeople and professionals across the country.
[00:01:15] Amy: And Jorge is definitely paving new ground in this space, Jorge welcome to the show.
[00:01:21] Jorge: Thank you, Amy. I really appreciate the invitation to participate in your podcast. I’ve been a fan I’ve been watching your work, and so I was really thrilled for the invitation.
[00:01:33] Amy: Well, thank you. And I’ll just say turn about’s fair play because I was a guest on your podcast a few months ago, and I finally have an opportunity to bring you into this one.
[00:01:41] Amy: So I was really excited to launch something new that I could, I can, that I could include you in
[00:01:47] Jorge: inclusion, right? Yes.
[00:01:50] Amy: So I am curious, we don’t think about the construction industry a lot of times as being on the forefront of diversity and inclusion, and I’m wondering why, why DNI for this industry, and then why DNI, for granite construction specifically, what does the company hope to accomplish with their initiatives?
[00:02:14] Jorge: Oh, I love that question. And, and let me take you through a framework of talking to yourself and then others and then beyond. Right. So within, I will tell you that in your question, the reason why I think people don’t think of construction, the construction industry in the forefront, when it comes to DNI, has to do with.
[00:02:32] Jorge: Our own biases. And, and I’ll tell you a personal story. When my son was, I think, yeah, five and my daughter was two. We had a chance, we were in Colorado and we were going to go on the Halloween parade and I dressed, my son is Bob, the builder very quickly. And my daughter has many miles. And I give you that story because I never thought of my daughter ever being.
[00:02:58] Jorge: In construction. I never had any, like, why would I think of that? Right. Because of my own perceptions, my son very quickly. Oh yeah. Even the show, Bob, the builder, right. There was no women fig characters in the show until later that I think, I believe windy, the builder came up, but anyway so I give you that story because I think we all have grown up.
[00:03:20] Jorge: Dads, you know, or friends that have been in the construction industry and then been male figure. So that has left an imprint in our minds that, you know, diversity is not a thing in the construction industry. There’s only for men. But then when you come into the industry, you realize there are some amazing women like blazing, incredible trails, both in the operation side, like on roads, building things and on the backend, you know, in the administrative staff type roles, meaning in accounting and the controller’s department and finance departments and human resources.
[00:03:56] Jorge: So the construction industry can’t function without diversity. Right. So, so that’s the second part of it finally, and to answer the specifics of your question, you know, I think when from a workforce development perspective, the industry is in high demand, especially after the infrastructure bill that was passed.
[00:04:18] Jorge: We as a country have decided and made the decision to, you know, just take care of the roads, you know, to strengthen the bridges and to really think about what is it about infrastructure that needs improvement or would that we need to build. And so, there’s a high demand. But the supply for talent hasn’t kept up with the demand.
[00:04:40] Jorge: And so, we as an industry have to be very, very clinical about going to different talent pools that in the past, we never went to. So, bringing in more women bringing in more people of color that may have not been introduced to the industry because of the traditional approaches to recruitment. And so, when you bring that type of diversity in
[00:05:07] Jorge: you have to be aware of the environment now that you’re creating and the conversations that you’re going to be involved in, the things you need to consider. You know, for instance, if you bring in more women into the industry and your benefits are not current to the benefit structures that are available to women in other industries, you may be bringing women in and come to find out that they leave because the benefits don’t support them staying.
[00:05:33] Jorge: If you bring in, you know, a woman who wants to start a family and the benefits are not conducive for having a family, then she is going to look elsewhere. So that’s just one example that, that I think is critical that we consider. So, then the final thing, when you talk about Granie. You know, we’re celebrating a hundred years and there’s a reason why we’re celebrating a hundred years and why we’ve been a company for that long.
[00:05:59] Jorge: And it’s because along the way we have seen, you know, the trends we have noticed, the things that we needed to shift to, you know, the things that we’ve learned, we’ve learned how to unlearn and relearn new ways of doing things, right? So, you know, we take great pride in our safety initiatives. We take great pride in our core values.
[00:06:20] Jorge: And now and inclusion is one of our core values. You know, we really stepped back and said in order for us to be around the next hundred years, not only are we going to have a diverse portfolio of products, right? That we provide our clients, but we’re going to have a diverse workforce that we have to be able to have the right environment where people feel like they belong.
[00:06:43] Jorge: The people feel like they’re included that people feel like their voices are heard that they know that they can make a difference. So, it’s the, it’s an intentional, it’s being intentional with the focus on having impact on our workforce.
[00:06:59] Amy: And so how do you do that in construction? Because, you know, we’re hearing a lot broadly about how hard it is to manage culture when people are remote and in the construction environment, a lot of your workforce is on a job site, right? They’re not in the office obviously, or they can build the roads and the bridges and the buildings and things.
[00:07:21] Amy: And so how do you, how do you encourage, or how do you reinforce your values when your workforce is so distributed and people are not maybe always working on the same teams and, you know, I mean, it was just logistically from a culture standpoint, there’s a lot to manage there.
[00:07:40] Jorge: You know, so there is, and I think that is another reason why diversity is, needs to be understood that it’s broader than gender and ethnicity, because the diversity that you just talked, you just walked through a bunch of diversity
[00:07:56] Jorge: right. And, and we have to be able to acknowledge it. So let’s take coming back to the workplace or working from home, working hybrid in that whole concept, our industry is so diverse when, how we work, how we execute work that you need to have be nimble, flexible, have the exterior agility to move left or right
[00:08:17] Jorge: depending on weather, depending on a grade. Right? So we have a certain skillset that allows us to look at a problem. And to come up with the solution. So, this, so when you said, you know, some people working from home, we had no choice in order to keep working. We had crews on roads, right? We had crews working that we could not have them work from home or that work was not going to get done at the same time
[00:08:44] Jorge: we had people in offices that because of regulations from a state or manipulate municipality or whatever, they were cha we were challenged to, you know, have them work from home. So, we had this hybrid approach very quickly. Some companies did not have to deal with actual people coming into work. So, all of a sudden, but we had to do is we had to take a look at.
[00:09:08] Jorge: You know, and so let me let ground you on something like we take great pride on our values, right? So, when we talk about safety, integrity, excellence sustainability and inclusion, we needed to find out if this pandemic was going to continue longer, how is it going to be sustainable working in this type of model?
[00:09:28] Jorge: So, we had to step back and evaluate who can work from home, who couldn’t and then work through those conversations. Now it’s in that conversation that people come up with, well, why can’t I work from home and why do they work from home? And so, we’ve, we’ve dealt with those discussions. And if we didn’t have, I would tell you the inclusive diversity practice that we have in today.
[00:09:51] Jorge: I don’t know if we would have been equipped to have those conversations the way they needed to happen, and I’ll tell you that the last two years have really taught us a lot, has taught us that, you know, workplace culture is different today than it was in 2019. And for people to say that it isn’t, that we’re going to make it the same.
[00:10:15] Jorge: I think they’re reading different books and they’re not seeing the tea leaves, and so what you have to do is you have to be able to have the dexterity to agility, to pivot as needed in this environment. So, in your question for me, I think we have been equipped, not because, you know yes, because of inclusive diversity, but because just the innate nature of our work, when we’re told, Hey, we need to build this bridge.
[00:10:47] Jorge: The people that hired us don’t know how to build it. So, they hire, we know how to solve problems. And I think that that’s something that the industry should take great pride in. We know how to solve some major, hairy issues, right. When it comes to construction. So, using the same methodology. We could step back and evaluate what, what things do we need to solve for here and take the same approach to get the same results, right?
[00:11:11] Jorge: The success, so that’s how I would answer your question. I think, I think we need to give ourselves a little bit more credit, number one, but number two, we have to have those conversations to be able to, to hear different perspectives.
[00:11:27] Amy: Yeah. And, you know, you brought up so much in that and I want to go back to this problem-solving notion, because you, you mentioned workforce development in the why for the construction industry, why is diversity and inclusion important?
[00:11:40] Amy: I think that a lot of a lot of industries are struggling to find qualified people, they’re struggling to find that talent pipeline coming into their industries, and I know you and I have talked in the past about how the trades were overlooked for so many decades as a path to a good middle class job, you know, for, I mean, years, right?
[00:12:04] Amy: The dominant narrative was you have to go to college, you have to, you know, be an engineer. You have to be right. All of these different kind of white collar jobs was kind of the definition of success in America for a long time, and I know that there’s a shortage now because of that and probably because of some other factors as well, but largely because of that narrative, that there’s been a shortage in the trades of skilled workers,
[00:12:32] Amy: there’s fewer people going into apprenticeship programs, that sort of thing. Can you talk about what Granite’s doing to shore up the trades as a viable career path for young people and how you’re building that, that workforce of the future to have that pipeline coming in.
[00:12:51] Jorge: Yeah. So, I think the best way of answering it is there’s short-term, mid-term and long-term type of strategies that we’re thinking through.
[00:13:01] Jorge: I think on the short term, what you do is. You strengthen the relationships, strategic relationships you have with unions, trade associations you know, junior college systems and, and organizations that feed, you know, talent into a talent pipeline, right? It’s short-term in the middle term, what you need to do is you need to strengthen the
[00:13:24] Jorge: things that have worked in the past, and that is you have to have conversations with people at younger ages to let them know the value of career reconstruction, but an individual company like Granite could, you know, with 6,000 employees we could visit 6,000 high schools. Today, if we want it to, but the reality is is that there’s more high schools.
[00:13:48] Jorge: There’s more schools, right? More great middle schools and grade schools than we are as a company. So as an industry, we’re strengthening our position in the sense of convening and, and having other companies like work with us to do that because this is an industry solve that we have to do.
[00:14:06] Jorge: And ultimately long-term. We have to step back and build the strategies that are necessary to build pipelines and talent pools outside of the normal partnerships that we have and the normal convening that we do as an industry, meaning that we have to consider apprenticeship programs specifically for Granite.
[00:14:27] Jorge: How do we educate in the communities where we live and work? How do we expose people to things to jobs like ours? With degrees or no degrees and, and be very intentional about having an impact with that. That’s like high level, you know, short mid-term heights, you know, long-term the thing that I think is fascinating is, is this.
[00:14:50] Jorge: We also have to step back as an industry and realize that I don’t, I don’t know where the shift happened, Amy, and maybe there’s some research out there that you can help me with, but there came a time when, you know, there was schools in New York, Texas, LA I mean, California, where we were teaching classes.
[00:15:10] Jorge: And people could get certified to be plumbers, to be, you know, work into the trades, and then we stopped doing that and we said, you know, four year degree is the way to go. And I think what we’re finding out is that process with some people just did not connect. So, you have people leaving after the freshman, sophomore year that may be, should have gone into the trades, maybe should have gone into, so, you know, how do we, as a society also put value on the people that can work with their hands
[00:15:42] Jorge: and give them the flowers that they deserve, right. Because we have an amazing opportunity for people coming out of high school to build an incredible career, incredible life be able to buy our homes and their kids, you know, whatever schools that they wanted.
[00:15:55] Jorge: I mean, we have people that have done really good being in, in this industry. So we, as a society have to value, right, people that are fixing our roads, you know, building our bridges and our tunnels and so forth.
[00:16:11] Amy: Yeah. You know, we’ve seen in the last couple of years, what happens when those things don’t work anymore?
[00:16:17] Amy: Right. When that link is taken out, we’ve seen supply chain problems. We’ve seen, you know, the very famous collapse of a building in condominium in Florida, right? We’ve seen bridges that are collapsing. I mean, there’s a lot that we’ve seen that we’ve neglected for so long that now, right. We’re at this critical point.
[00:16:40] Amy: And I think that, you know, I think the value it’s one of those things like I know a lot of people that work in IT, right. They run the server room and if everything’s going well, kind of the adage is, well, if everything’s going well, what am I paying you for? And then if anything breaks, well, what am I paying you for?
[00:16:57] Amy: Right. And I think our infrastructure is kind of in that same boat. Right. We don’t notice it until something goes wrong. And then we wonder, well, where is everyone? And, and they’d been neglected for far too long.
[00:17:09] Jorge: Yeah, you don’t have, you don’t have, sorry, sorry for the interruption, but, but you know, what you just brought up is a bridge
[00:17:15] Jorge: doesn’t have technically check engine light like we do in our cars and the people that will tell you that work on cars. If you’re taking your car in, when the check engine light goes on, you you’ve actually like made it made it worse, right? Like you should be the maintenance of your vehicles should be done before those lights.
[00:17:37] Jorge: So those things don’t go on because by the time they go on, you’ve let it go further than it needs to. And I think that that’s what resonates for me. When you say that, like, I think the bridge was built, let’s say, let’s keep going down that path. And we said, oh, it gets us from point a to point B. Don’t need to worry about that anymore.
[00:17:55] Jorge: And so, because we don’t have to worry about that anymore. We don’t have to upkeep it. We don’t need to staff to, to check it. We don’t need to do all this stuff. Or we go from a hundred inspectors down to five and they can inspect all the bridges on an annual basis. That’s one way of thinking through it.
[00:18:10] Jorge: But then when you see a crack and you report it, there’s only a crack. The cars can still go through it. I don’t know how many cracks you need on a bridge before you have to repair it. That’s not my expertise, but I can tell you that, that’s what I think what we’ve lost is that support mechanism.
[00:18:31] Jorge: And now we have the opportunity to make it right.
[00:18:36] Amy: Absolutely. And to do that, you need more people than you currently have, and you need different people than you’ve historically had. What kind of messaging are you putting behind, come join us in the construction industry, especially to people who maybe have been excluded from it or felt excluded from it in the past, or they think, yeah, I can work there, but it’s going to be a low wage job or there’s a path forward for me.
[00:19:00] Amy: Because I know that, historically A lot of a lot of hands-on work, has not led to career advancement for people who have been historically excluded.
[00:19:08] Jorge: Yeah, so I really liked the way you asked that question, because it goes back to an initial thought that you, you, you put out and that was, is that there’s not a lot of qualified people.
[00:19:22] Jorge: And I would tell you that I I’ve been in human resources for the majority of my career and there’s always qualified people. It’s who you’re not letting in is the issue. So let me say that again. The issue is, is that there’s not qualified people. The issue is, is who you’re letting in, and sometimes who you’re letting in has to do.
[00:19:48] Jorge: There are certain only certain staff that numbers that you can bring in. Right? So if, if your capacity to hire is only to bring, you know, to have a company of 10,000 people and you can’t handle 20, 30, 40, 50,000, you know, that’s, that’s legit, right? You can only staff to what you can, can work on at the same time when you know, so to answer your question, We have been pretty consistent of going to places that other companies don’t go, because we’ve realized very quickly that if everyone’s fishing in the same pond, the opportunity for you to get a lot of fish now, So we challenge ourselves to identify new talent pools, go to different schools that other, that traditionally we have not gone to.
[00:20:39] Jorge: And then we’re pretty transparent of the opportunity, not only of the positions that are available but the, the income that could be made. Like we’re like, we don’t, we don’t have that’s part of integrity. Right? I think you can’t, you can’t hide your cards. And now states are literally forcing companies to put out ranges of what people could make.
[00:21:02] Jorge: So, you know, now what we used to be an advantage for us that this transparency right now, everyone’s a, it’s an unequal playing field almost in certain areas. But to answer your question, it doesn’t feel like we’re, we’re not doing anything new, we’re just continuing doing what we’ve done to have greater impact.
[00:21:20] Jorge: So, you know, there are places in the country that we are not like have a regional office, and that’s by strategy, but we also think about, can we go into those marketplaces and recruit and bring in talent that we haven’t had in the past? I think that you have to be real mindful is this is that you can’t take someone from Jackson, Mississippi, and to be very specific, drop them in Everett, Washington.
[00:21:49] Jorge: If the community in, let’s say in a certain city cannot sustain a certain community. So, if the social life, the social awareness is not there, the church infrastructure is not there. Just issues like hair taking care of hair. If you don’t have barbers, beauty shops that can take care of a culture, then those people you’re going to bring them in, but they’re going to leave.
[00:22:19] Jorge: So you have to be really mindful. So, I think. To build on, you know, to the, the answering your question. Those are the things that we’re considering that maybe in the past, we wouldn’t have noticed or understood that needed to be, to be thought of.
[00:22:35] Amy: That is so important, and I think I know of a friend of mine that works with the local economic development commission.
[00:22:42] Amy: She lives in Iowa and she does a lot of work around that around how do you create a community that will not churn through the workers that the local employers bring in, right? They don’t have enough folks locally cause it’s a pretty rural community and so then when they bring folks in, they don’t stay because even though they’ve got a great job and they love their employer, the community,
[00:23:06] Amy: rejects them. Think about an organ transplant, it’s almost like that kind of a thing, right?
[00:23:11] Jorge: You got to get the body ready or in a transplant, dear example, because Leo Tucker at Northwestern mutual uses similar analogy.
[00:23:18] Jorge: He says, we got to get the body ready to accept the organ, because if you don’t get the body ready, the body will reject it, and sometimes the organ will reject the body too. So, let’s be mindful of that right, and then on a personal note I’m here in the United States because in 1968 or so, yeah, 1968, my father won a lottery to get a green card.
[00:23:44] Jorge: And it happened, our port of entry was new Orleans and what was happening in new Orleans at the time, the service industry needed people, and so they went to central America and so they brought some people from central America in, but they were going back home, not a lot of Jorge’s in new Orleans in 1969.
[00:23:58] Jorge: Right, and so, they realized, wait a minute, time out, we should build community for these folks that we’re bringing in. So, my dad was a musician and so he was part of that building of the community, and so that’s why I’m here. So, you know, just like I said, that the industry has the ability to solve
[00:24:17] Jorge: so do we as a country, right? We have the ability to solve. We just have to pause, and really think through it, like, what would we need? So, yeah.
[00:24:28] Amy: And nobody wants to live somewhere that they don’t feel safe. Nobody wants to live somewhere where they have to drive you know, hours to get the products that they need or the foods that they need that are culturally appropriate or a church where they feel like they belong.
[00:24:41] Amy: And so, it absolutely makes sense to me that employers would want to be mindful of that so they’re not paying relocation costs and then, you know, and training people and then losing them because of the community.
[00:24:53] Jorge: and, and, and, you know, and that’s what gets lost when we, when we’re very intentional in our practice, right.
[00:25:00] Jorge: When we say, well, that’s a privilege that a person has in a certain city, not to be thinking about that stuff. Right, and then all of a sudden, the word privileged takes a whole different meaning of people, right? Because you could be in a community that you’ve grown you haven’t grown up with a silver spoon in your mouth that you had to work really hard
[00:25:19] Jorge: and if you identify the word privilege that way you don’t get to see you. You know, you, you you’re looking at things, but you don’t see the issue that we’re talking about right here, right? So, someone’s privilege of not having to worry about currently having curly hair, right. That the only way that you think about curly hair is if you actually go get a perm, right.
[00:25:40] Jorge: Or there’s certain products that you, that certain communities need or thrive with that you may not think of. But that is also the thing that when we mean privilege, the thing that you don’t think about, right? There’s an advantage that that church is another example, right? If you have a church and I go to a certain church, a certain denomination, and that church is not around, I don’t feel like, like you said, that I belong in this community.
[00:26:05] Jorge: So those are the kinds of things that we think about on when we go in to a job, to a job site or opening up an office that we consider.
[00:26:17] Amy: Jorge, this has been such an amazing conversation. I think you’ve given us a lot of insights into what Granite’s doing and how the construction industry is responding to some of these number one market pressures, but also talent pressures.
[00:26:30] Amy: In terms of diversity and inclusion. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our viewers and our listeners about what it is that you’re doing that you feel like is really working that that’s really making a difference?
[00:26:44] Jorge: I paused because I think there’s, there’s a lot to synthesize, but if I, but knowing that we only have a couple of minutes to close, I would tell you that I feel like my job is to create clarity.
[00:26:57] Jorge: When we think about diversity, equity and inclusion. My job, like what we’re doing at Granite is really being intentional about strengthening our talent pipeline and developing our talent with the focus on women and people of color, and then ultimately, I think the third thing that I would say to you is, is that we’re building the capability of people, not just leaders, our entire workforce, to be able to notice, to understand
[00:27:30] Jorge: and to act when it comes to difference and similarity. When, when you can build that capability throughout the organization, you just, the sheer momentum of an organization like 6,000, you know, 7,000 people, all thinking about noticing, understanding and acting on it. It’s powerful. I think I really am proud of our company because we’ve realized that it’s not just Jorge Quezada,
[00:27:58] Jorge: it’s not just the, you know, inclusive diversity team. It’s not just the CEO and its leaders, right. Because there’s more people than we have leaders. So, when we can get 7,000 people moving forward of noticing, understanding, and acting game changer.
[00:28:15] Amy: That’s incredible. So, what’s left to do what haven’t you accomplished that you plan to do next?
[00:28:22] Jorge: Developing the consistency. I think that, you know, when you can, so when you have strategy when, when you can build a strategy, operationalize it and execute it, it can’t just be one day that you do that, right. You know, you build a strategy to last three to five years, let’s say you operationalize it.
[00:28:43] Jorge: So. It’s functional. It’s in your systems. It’s the consistency of the habits that you have to have. Can you give a quietest person in the room of voice? Can you have the person who feels most different, feel like they belong and regardless of tenure, can you have someone like, feel that they’re that they’re contributing, you know, that if you can do that on a daily basis and create the interaction safety.
[00:29:11] Jorge: And I just read a book by Judy Katz and Frederick Miller, and instead of psychological safety, they talk about interaction safety, right? If we can be consistent in our habits, around our interactions and how do I make you feel like to feel and understand that you belong another game changer?
[00:29:32] Amy: That’s fantastic.
[00:29:33] Amy: I can’t wait to hear about that and how it’s going. Jorge Quezada thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for being a guest on my show and for all the work that you’re doing to keep our company or our country, excuse me from crumbling
[00:29:48] Jorge: so many ways. Yeah, no, no worries. You know, and Amy, thank you so much for just your brilliance and
[00:29:57] Jorge: I think the energy that you bring to our practice sometimes I think we can get into routines and it’s always, it’s always amazing to have such a thoughtful, fresh voice in this space.
[00:30:10] Amy: Thank you so much. I received that and I appreciate that a lot. Thank you.
[00:31:05] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of including you join me next week when my guest will be Jen Maho, Reichler from Epsilon data marketing.
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Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com