No. 1 Must-Have: "Road trips, definitely. I mean, iced coffee comes with me, but road trips are what my soul needs to reconnect with my brain and my heart every year."
As the construction industry evolves, so too do its hires. Erika Anderson is one of them, and she’s making sure there are more like her — and unlike her. Originally a grant writer and an adult education instructor of English as a second language for student citizenship, Anderson went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling. “I have a real passion for adults and workforce development — really, just people deciding what their passions are — and figuring out how to place them in our economy and our communities,” she said, which is precisely how she found her way into the construction industry. Anderson has been with Associated General Contractors of America, (AGC) Colorado for six years, the first four and a half of which she spent in workforce development and recruitment for adults who were underemployed and/or had barriers to employment. “I did a lot of career coaching, counseling, resume writing workshops and pipelining talent into the commercial construction industry,” she said.
Then, in 2018, AGC of Washington set out to further diversify the industry and ensure its inclusiveness for years to come with the development of the Culture of CARE initiative. AGC of America quickly took notice and partnered with its Washington branch in 2020 to advance the construction industry as the industry of choice for diverse and talented workers by building inclusive work environments at firms across the country through a national Culture of CARE (Commit, Attract, Retain, Empower) campaign. For the last year and a half, Anderson has led the charge in Colorado as culture of CARE manager.
“Here in Colorado, we took it really seriously to engage in four separate initiatives (or buckets, as I call them) that kind of focus on that commitment,” said Anderson. First is suicide prevention and awareness of mental health resources. The second facet is diversity, equity and inclusion, achieved by empowering Colorado firms with the necessary knowledge and resources, as well as creating partnerships that help those companies enact their own initiatives. The third is supplier diversity, which includes outreach and engagement with Colorado’s small, minority- and women-owned companies, helping ensure those companies get a seat at the table. The final “bucket” is workforce development — helping firms establish practical ways to renovate their company culture and ensure its evolution. “Because sometimes we have to update the way that we pursue new talent. It takes looking at culture and creating new ways of recruiting and reaching out to the new generation of talent,” said Anderson.
Her greatest career achievement is what she does on an ongoing basis through the Culture of CARE program. “It’s just sort of being a squeaky wheel to encourage people in leadership to notice the dignity and respect that their workforce deserves. They deserve to be seen as really powerful, essential human beings.” That need became especially evident during the pandemic. Getting to tell the stories of individuals who haven’t had the position to share their needs and wants in the industry with others is what Anderson loves.
But it isn’t just luck that’s gotten Anderson where she is; she’s a standout in the work she does. In addition to aiding a more diverse group of construction professionals in securing industry positions, she’s helping celebrate and promote women in the industry through AGC of Colorado’s Women in Construction (WIC) Waymaker Program — a monthlong celebration of women in the industry, complete with a yearbook of females in the industry who go the extra mile to empower, inspire and pave the way for others in their workplace. “Women oftentimes feel like they have to work extra hard to gain the respect due them,” said Anderson. “Through Waymaker, I’ve seen women inspiring one another and learning to just keep noticing anyone who is maybe feeling marginalized, because we can all help make a way for others.”
Rather than hiding their femininity in a space filled mostly with men, Anderson encourages women to harness their power, empathy and care because it can change the industry. “I think the industry knows we need more women. They want more women!” said Anderson. She is proud of how far construction has come and where it’s heading. “I see people coming to the table with a lot of humility, curiosity, openness and a willingness to learn. Of course, it’s not the case for everyone, but I really see that we’re joining the century by looking at retention and organizational leadership strategies, specifically as it pertains to diversity, equity and inclusion. That makes me hopeful.”
* In November, Anderson will be moving into the role of Talent Acquisition and Development Manager for the Plains District at Hensel Phelps Construction.