Skanska: diverse hardhats welcome at this worldwide construction firm
As more of its people near retirement, the Swedish company is interested in everyone from seasoned engineers to new grads, says its diversity director
Skanska is a leading force in worldwide project development and construction. Women and minority hardhats are very welcome at the company; many are in leading roles on Skanska sites, as project engineers, project managers and superintendents. There are thirty-three Skanska offices in the U.S.
Skanska is actively seeking more women and minorities, and at the same time ensuring its workplace is friendly to all who call it home, says James R. Threalkill, senior director for diversity.
“There’s a perception that construction is a gruff, chauvinist industry,” Threalkill says. “We don’t want that, and we have developed a code of conduct and policies to promote respect for diversity and inclusion. All our people understand that we insist on that code of conduct.”
Skanska is bringing in “a different and sophisticated” pool of job applicants. “There’s a whole new realm of possibilities,” Threalkill says.
Engineers come in as project managers and can move over to superintendent roles. If they continue to progress they eventually become account managers.
Skanska emphasizes outreach to schools with strong engineering departments, looking for candidates for the administrative side of the company and also for construction sites. It goes to HBCUs including Florida A&M, Tennessee State University and Prairie View A&M (Prairie View, TX). “We see a variety of students coming by to talk about careers in the construction industry,” Threalkill says.
A wide variety of engineering disciplines are needed at Skanska: EEs, MEs and CEs in particular. A CE division handles bridge and roadwork. One building division does healthcare, athletic venues and higher education construction. Some engineers are in liaison roles, working with construction teams onsite.
“Construction is sometimes a fairly nomadic industry,” Threalkill explains. “We need a balance of people in our firms: those who are OK with not traveling, along with those who don’t mind moving every two to three years.”
Many enjoy the opportunities to relocate anywhere in the world. There’s even a global program that includes four work assignments over two years, and an exchange program where employees who have been with the company two years or more can work in a European office. “It’s a neat cross-cultural exchange.”
Participants don’t need a foreign language, Threalkill says, although it’s welcome. “We had a woman from Purdue who spoke Spanish and German. She is on a temporary work assignment in Sweden and she’s picked up that language, too.”
During a global summit in London last year, Skanska leaders came up with strategies for diversifying the workforce. The goal was to significantly increase the percentage of ethnic and gender diversity in the company.
Skanska has a national diversity council, comprised of representatives from across the company as well as members of senior leadership, including the president of Skanska USA. This group works with the fifteen local diversity councils throughout the U.S. Council members promote diversity policies, help with community outreach, work with women- and minority-owned businesses and also with youth programs to introduce high schoolers to the industry in time to select engineering or construction majors in college.
The Architecture, Construction and Engineering Mentor Program (www.acementor.org) puts companies like Skanska together with high school students. Employees work with teens for six to eight months during the school year, introducing them to components of construction and helping them with projects of their own. Some of the participants also receive tuition assistance for college.
The company is also working with consultants on diversity sensitivity training, which will be a requirement for the entire workforce. “Skanska University” offers online training and exercises, and Threalkill does additional training in the office.
Each employee goes through an annual evaluation with managers, including succession plans and areas to be developed. There’s also a variety of mentoring programs: employees teamed with senior execs or with more-experienced employees.
In the area of work-life balance, Skanska continues to explore programs like extended maternity leave, child care and working from home, as well as telecommuting, flex-time and domestic partner benefits. The company also puts a huge emphasis on wellness, which is closely linked to its strong commitment to safety. It brings in local hospital staff to conduct blood pressure and other screenings on site. “As the leading healthcare construction builder, we have a significant emphasis on promoting the health and safety of our workforce,” Threalkill says.
Employees also get involved in community outreach: Komen breast cancer walks, Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest food banks, adopting schools and families during the holidays. “Our message is not to build a community facility and leave, but to be a friendly corporate partner with social services while we’re here. We’re proud of that,” Threalkill says.
||International project development and construction