More women and people of color on Minnesota road projects

Minnesota Department of Transportation faces were grim a few years ago.

My colleague, Mike Edgerly and I sat in an agency conference room with MnDOT bosses and asked about some sobering numbers.

Their efforts to recruit and find women and people of color for road and bridge projects were falling short.

Not just once, but over a period of years.

Fast forward to 2011, and MnDOT says the picture has changed.

There are more Disadvantaged Business Enterprises – women and minority owned companies – winning primary or subcontracting jobs with MnDOT and prime contractors.

There are more women and people of color breaking into living wage jobs on road construction crews through the agency’s on the job training program.

Here are the numbers supplied by MnDOT:

Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE) Participation improvements from 3.2% in 2009, 5.6% in 2010 to 7.6% in 2011. Current goal is 8.7% .

13 Mentor Protege Relationships established between prime and DBEs and implementation of a Working Capital Fund to assist small businesses.

On the Job Training Placements: 70 in 2009. 111 in 2010. 127 in 2011

Minority Workforce Participation increased from 6.1% in 2009 to 8.5% in 2011

Women Workforce Participation increased from 3.3% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2011

The Federal Highway Administration recently took note of the improvements and gave MnDOT an award for how it got there.

It got there in no small measure because a whistleblower called the agency on its poor performance. She lost her job, sued, and won a small settlement.

The result was MnDOT’s shortcomings hit the radar screen of advocacy groups and MPR News’ reporting brought even more attention to the problem.

Enter Summit Academy OIC executive director Louis King and others who know how to marshal facts and rouse bodies for public confrontations with MnDOT officials.

The confrontations led to a so-called collaboration.

MnDOT hired an outside facilitator and representatives from the agency, contractors, unions and a range of other groups for more than a year to hammer out a plan for change.

The strategy appears to be helping MnDOT’s and its contractors’ hiring to more accurately reflect Minnesota’s population.

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