It was the last interview of the night, and the one that has left a lasting impact on Myllex Guadamuz. The workforce development coordinator for PCL Construction was looking to fill laborer positions for the Midfield Satellite Concourse North project, a massive multiyear airport construction project for the Los Angeles International Airport that we completed in February 2021.
The final candidate was visibly emotional as he answered questions. Eventually, he shared that this was the first interview in the six months since he had been released from prison where he felt he was being treated like a person.
“He said, I’m just grateful that I’m able to sit here with you asking me normal interview questions and not looking at me as an ex-convict,” Guadamuz recounts.
According to a 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is five times higher than the unemployment rate of the general U.S. population (27% versus 5%). And these were the rates before the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The same report says that a criminal record reduces the chance of an employer callback by 50%.
Stigma can be difficult to overcome, but PCL has always been committed to helping employees and clients conquer challenges and to modeling the way for subcontracting partners. PCL fosters an inclusive culture that values hiring employees with diverse backgrounds. Through its workforce development program, PCL partners with local organizations such as the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (which supports formerly incarcerated people), WINTER (Women in Non Traditional Employment Roles) and Helmets to Hardhats (a program for veterans) to connect with potential workers who may not have considered a career in construction.
Across five projects – the Bank of California Stadium, Midfield Satellite Concourse North, Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, Destination Crenshaw and now the Consolidated Rent-a-Car Facility (ConRAC) – the program has created more than 600 new careers; with over half comprised of local residents. In fact, Business Development Manager Priscilla Chavez believes that PCL’s workforce development program was one key reason that PCL was selected for the ConRAC project.
“We knew that the client, Los Angeles World Airports, is focused on creating economic opportunity in the airport’s surrounding areas for those who are really impacted by low-income poverty, and was looking for a partner who understood that vision,” Chavez says. “We proposed an ambitious workforce development initiative where we committed to the client that we would create or help facilitate 100 local first period apprenticeship careers over the course of the project.”
An ambitious goal – and exceeded. With more than a year left on the project and in partnership with dozens of subcontractors, PCL Construction has already created 150 local construction careers at the ConRAC site alone.
Formerly incarcerated individuals make up about 60% of PCL’s current workforce development program’s participants in California.
“Because of their background, naturally they’d be a little more scared and nervous than any other typical person during an interview process, but PCL assured them that we didn’t really care where they came from, but more so where they were going and how they were going to get there,” Guadamuz says in a video created for the workforce development program.
In the video, PCL Construction employees describe how their lives have been transformed through opportunity.
“Getting out, I was lost, I had no idea what was going to happen,” PCL laborer Everardo Rubalcaba says. “But I heard about a non-profit called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition that would help people like me that came out of prison to find employment and be able to get a fresh start.”
Destin Smith says his release from prison was full of uncertainty but working with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) gave him a chance to succeed at life. “I didn’t have anything set in stone for my return back to society, so I would more than likely be back in prison,” he says. “Since I’ve gone through the ARC Program and joined PCL, my life has changed so drastically. I’m married, I have children and I can provide for them.”
People are the key to PCL’s success, Superintendent Allen Hill explains, saying PCL is “in the people business first, construction business second.”
“We have to care about those who we work with or else we’re not going to be successful,” Hill says. “Project owners want to work with PCL because of how we support the people who we employ and how we relate back to the communities that we work with. That’s what sets PCL apart from everyone else.”
The opportunities offered by the PCL construction workforce development program are the result of a collaboration between PCL, subcontractors, labor unions and community partnerships. For many, a job-offer to work on a PCL project can be turning point.
Chavez says, “You can only imagine how impactful the hiring calls are when PCL or a subcontracting partner says, ‘We’re going to give a you a shot – we’re saying yes.’”
That data is clear on the program’s potential for impact. Research from the Brookings Institute shows that the median income for prisoners four years after their release is $13,601 – with 49% of former prisoners having no earnings at all. Offering these individuals a career with PCL helps them rise above the numbers. When workers join PCL as first period apprentice laborers in Los Angeles, they are typically hired at an hourly rate $17 to $21, plus they are offered health benefits and a retirement plan.
Of course, this is just the starting point. Guadamuz says the project has seen countless apprentices journey out, become project superintendents, and some have even decide to pursue construction management degrees.
“I can’t keep count of how many people and how many powerful stories have come out of the projects I’ve worked on. People who have been homeless and battled drug addiction, alcoholism, or people who have had to deal with abandonment issues. It’s been very rewarding to see them transform their lives.”
Both Chavez and Guadamuz insist that the true credit for these workers’ success falls on each person’s own work ethic and talent. When reaching out to organizations to connect with new prospects for the workforce development program, only the top candidates are invited to join PCL. Regardless of their background, each worker must demonstrate the same commitment to excellence PCL is known for in the construction industry.
“We’re just providing access to opportunity,” Chavez says. “These jobs and careers weren’t handed over. These individuals went through a program and were the best in class. They have absolutely earned their position with us.”