The construction workers restoring the People's House look much more like today's Minnesota.
On Tuesday, JE Dunn, the principal contractor restoring the State Capitol, was awarded the state's highest rating for its employment of minorities and women, after being singled out last year for its overwhelmingly white and male workforce.
Last April, JE Dunn was alone among 35 state-monitored project contractors to receive a failing rating from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights after the department said it was not making good faith efforts to recruit minorities. At the time, JE Dunn's project manager Jason McMillen blamed the low diversity rates on the low number of minority and female workers who could do the specialized work required in restoring the 109-year-old landmark.
This week, the department announced that it gave contractor JE Dunn a "1" rating after the company made changes to its diversity work plan, such as hiring a new diversity manager and training subcontractors to recruit minorities and women. In less than a year, the company increased its minority workforce from 5.9 percent to nearly 35 percent. Its female workforce went from 3.45 to 21 percent.
"JE Dunn is implementing strategies that are improving the diversity of its workforce," Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said in a statement. "JE Dunn has made a laudable turnaround in their workforce inclusion performance and this deserves to be highlighted."
Under state law, the Human Rights Department has the authority to issue goals for the number of working hours given to minorities and women by companies that have received state contracts worth more than $100,000. Failing to meet diversity targets can jeopardize a company's ability to finish a contract or bid on new ones.
Kansas City-based JE Dunn was awarded a $3 million contract to restore the Capitol's gold dome and started work in 2010. The contract was then expanded to include work on a new tunnel under University Avenue and other interior and exterior restoration work on the building, such as upgrading the electrical and plumbing systems.
The company made several changes to its work plan. It hired a female diversity manager, Christa Seaberg, last June. The company required every subcontractor to go through Good Faith Efforts training, which was developed with the Department of Human Rights, to help the company's contractors and subcontractors monitor their minority participation levels.
Seaberg said she knew coming into the job that finding specialized workers to restore the interior and exterior of the Capitol was a challenge, but she said that was not an excuse.
"I said, 'What are you doing as a company here in Minnesota to help increase those numbers?' " said Seaberg, who then established various partnerships with trade schools, high schools and unions in an effort to teach the needed skills to potential incoming construction workers.
With these efforts, Seaberg expects the company will continue to receive the department's highest rating.
"At this point everyone is where they want to be," Seaberg said. "When the projects increase, there is going to be a lot of different subcontractors on there and we need to support their outreach efforts."