Building a Culture of Belonging for Veterans

Mission Possible: Building a Culture of Belonging for Veterans

California team advances the cause of veteran inclusion for San Diego Unified School District 

In working with our K-12 clients, we have found the wise words of Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai to always ring true: “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.” For San Diego Unified School District, Balfour Beatty is proving that one company and one vision of bringing greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to the construction industry can change our communities—one mission at a time. 

On the $38 million Innovations Academy Modernization project, Balfour Beatty’s mission encompassed far more than delivering over 62,000 square feet of state-of-the-art educational space within an accelerated five-month schedule. Balfour Beatty awarded nearly 13% or $5,000,000 in contracts to the growing San Diego Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises (DVBE) community, more than doubling the School District’s 6% project participation goal. 

Contracts were awarded to five local DVBE firms, which have partnered with our team on a combined total of 22 San Diego Unified School District projects: Audio Associates of San Diego, IO Environmental & Infrastructure Inc., Penn Air Control Inc., PN Supply and Veterans Engineering Services, Inc. These partnerships bring a pool of talent that is rich in leadership and complex problem-solving skillsets needed to successfully execute the challenges of today’s projects.

In recognition of this achievement, the Veterans in Business Network awarded Balfour Beatty a Certificate of Appreciation. 

Partnering to Achieve Mutual Success

To achieve such a dynamic DVBE participation on a hard-bid project, Balfour Beatty leveraged a multi-phase strategy that began with developing targeted bid packages during preconstruction. On all projects, the team invests time ensuring DVBEs understand the full project scope, which in turn positions them to create best-value bids. On many occasions, DVBEs contract as second-tier trade partners, so it is critical for Balfour Beatty to establish clear participation goals for the entire supply chain. 

As the former owner of a tilt-up concrete company, Senior Vice President and one of Balfour Beatty’s California K-12 market leads Tim Berry recognizes the unique challenges small businesses face regarding cash flow management. Across the industry, contractors operate on consistently thin margins. For small businesses, many of which are family-owned operating on low reserves, maintaining a consistent cash flow can be just as critical to success as profit. Balfour Beatty minimizes risk by promptly processing change orders and assisting with the submission of accurate and timely pay applications. 

Aligning Forces

As an owner that places tremendous value on the inclusion of emerging business enterprises (EBE), San Diego Unified School District has repeatedly entrusted its capital construction projects to Balfour Beatty—a people-first contractor that shares its commitment to creating workplaces in which diverse backgrounds, perspectives and talents contribute to shared success. Over the past five years, Balfour Beatty has completed five projects for the School District and currently has six under construction. 

Across all projects, San Diego Unified School District’s mandatory EBE participation goal is 50% which includes 5% for DVBEs—statistics that currently vastly exceed that of most public and private owners. But Balfour Beatty’s San Diego-based Minority Business Development Specialist Annie Del Rio predicts that such goals will become standard practice in the future thanks to a growing construction industry focus on veteran recruitment and expanding corporate and government DE&I workforce initiatives. 

“I believe we’re ahead of the curve ten-fold,” praises Berry of Balfour Beatty’s DE&I efforts in California. “In working with the federal government, we are challenged to target nearly 70% participation. San Diego Unified School District has raised the bar for education owners.” 

Advancing the Cause of Veteran Inclusion

Across its U.S. operations, Balfour Beatty has taken actionable steps to advance the inclusion of veterans. From visiting military bases to collaborating with the Veterans Administration (VA) Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and recruitment firms that specialize in placing veterans, Balfour Beatty recognizes the critical role veterans will play in shaping the future of an industry that is facing an unprecedented labor shortage. 

“Many of the veterans on our projects have served in active duty combat,” says Berry. “In making the transition to construction, veterans are going from one ‘boots-on-the-ground’ career to another in the sense that both see an end result in their work that provides a tangible sense of pride and accomplishment in a mission well-executed.” 

“Our industry is starving for leaders,” adds US Army combat medic veteran and Balfour Beatty’s Dallas-based Safety Health & Environment Director Jordan Webster. “The military provides a continuous source of disciplined, committed professionals with the ability to quickly adapt and perform at high levels in the positions we need to fill.”

In California, Balfour Beatty’s veteran outreach efforts are also focused on removing barriers some firms face to procuring work, including achieving state certification as a Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) or DVBE and meeting prequalification standards. 

When COVID-19 prohibited in-person outreach events, our team tapped into the power of digital solutions, developing a custom microsite that contains a glossary of critical industry terminology. “If you’re a small business, and you want to learn about bonding or bidding, this will be a one-stop-shop,” praises Del Rio of the microsite that will launch in 2021. 

At Balfour Beatty, outreach also extends to providing support for mental health and wellness, a need that is particularly vital for veterans  and construction workers  who are disproportionately affected by suicide. 

Although businesses and communities have made tangible progress in connecting and partnering with veterans, much work remains to be done in expanding inclusion efforts for individuals who identify as having disabilities. This rings especially true for the construction industry, where accommodations such as closed captioning may be required to enable all team members to reach their full potential. 

Jobsites can sometimes bring unique logistical challenges for those who utilize mobility assistance devices. Balfour Beatty is committed to ensuring equitable access throughout every stage our projects from bid meetings to jobsite trailers and has custom built ramps to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. 

Balfour Beatty’s momentum within the California DVBE community reflects the company’s passionate and sustained commitment to expanding DE&I efforts. As contractors reimagine partnership models with project stakeholders and their communities, Balfour Beatty will continue to ensure the industry provides equal opportunities for every person who desires to play a role in building its bright future. 

1 The average number of veteran suicides per day was 17.6 in 2018 according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.
2 According to a January 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, construction is the second highest at-risk occupation group for suicide.