Fernando Aveiga, a 28-year-old Ecuadorian, is improving productivity, safety and understanding at construction sites in Iowa. With degrees in economics and international development, Aveiga serves as a multicultural workforce specialist for the Master Builders of Iowa, the state chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.

BUILDING TRUST Aveiga and the Iowa chapter of AGC created a bilingual manual for jobsites.
Graphic by Justin Reynolds
An ENR special feature.

Latinos make up 40% of Iowa's construction workforce, say officials with the Des Moines-based group. It hired Aveiga in 2007 to improve jobsite communication and trust.

“We were looking to the future, understanding that the future labor force will increasingly be more multicultural as traditional construction workers retire,” says MBI President and CEO Scott Norvell. “Like many other industries, we were looking for a political solution. The years passed, and nothing happened. So, we decided to begin the process ourselves.”

Aveiga and MBI developed a multilingual curriculum for improved jobsite communication. Language barriers can lead to poor performance and problems, says Aveiga, whose 25-module program addresses those concerns.

The curriculum includes “The Essential Resource for the Multicultural Crew in the Constr-uction Industry,” published in 2008, which phonetically spells out construction terms in both English and Spanish.

MBI updates the manual each year based on user feedback. The efforts led to AGC's 2009 National Diversity Award and green training grants from the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

Story Construction, a 39-year-old employee-owned firm with 160 workers, began using the manual three years ago. “We tried it on a few jobsites where we thought there was no way these guys were going to embrace it,” says Story's chief operating officer, Patrick Geary. “But those guys wound up being the most active participants.”

The Ames-based company has used the training on nine projects. Twice a week, workers spend 15 to 30 minutes exchanging words and lingo in what can be described as informal “lunch-box” chats.

“There is better trust among the guys, which is reflected in their confidence and speed of work,” Geary says.

The training pairs unlikely couples in an effort to shed misconceptions. The approach creates a “third space,” specific to the jobsite, with a new bi-lingual language.