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Seeing is Believing: HITT Contracting’s Kris Beason Sees Diversity as Potential Solution to Construction Labor Shortage

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By Meghan Hall

Kris Beason, Vice President of HITT Contracting

There are a lot of challenges that the regional construction industry faces on a regular basis as the Puget Sound has been transformed from a local, regional economy into a national gateway market. Like many cities experiencing growth, Seattle and the Puget Sound are experiencing a dearth of construction and contracting workers, which has impacted project timelines and the ability of the industry to keep up with demand. For Kris Beason, Vice President for HITT Seattle, the labor shortage, in part, can be addressed through upping diversification and inclusion efforts.

Kris, tell me a little bit about your experience in commercial real estate and your position at HITT Contracting. Since you have been in the industry, how have you seen the contracting business evolve?

I joined the construction industry over 30 years ago. I was inspired by strong women role models; my mother was a project manager and my aunt was a pipefitter. My construction career began as a project engineer, and I rose through the ranks in operations. I’ve also had a range of experience in other roles such as marketing, estimating, scheduling and safety. In 2018, I joined HITT as vice president to lead the Seattle office, focusing on growing the company’s presence in the Pacific Northwest.

As a women leader in construction, I want to inspire women to join me in the career that I love. The building industry is facing a shortage of labor – by 2022 we’ll need an additional 1.4 million workers to keep up with the current demand for construction services. There are more than 47 million women in the U.S. workforce, but only two percent work in the construction field. If we inspired just one percent more of these women to join construction (both as craft workers and construction professionals), we could add five million people to our force.

As for changes in the industry, the main shift I’ve noticed is that women are now less of a minority group. When I began, I was one of only a few other women I knew in the industry. I think it speaks volumes that now, while still less prevalent than men, women hold a significantly larger portion of the jobs in commercial construction and real estate. I believe this is a result of younger generations seeing more and more examples of women who forged their way into the industry and were successful. Seeing is believing.

What are HITT Contracting’s main values and goals when approaching a new project?

HITT values client relationships above everything else. We seek clients that value trust and partnership, and our commitment to this has allowed us to build a network of repeat clientele from coast to coast and across industry market sectors. We customize our approach based on the project vision and our teams utilize the right mindset to find innovative solutions to complex challenges.

HITT Contracting recently launched its Co/Lab Website; where did HITT get the idea to launch Co/Lab, and what does the site bring to its clients?

CoLab serves as HITT’s designated space for research and testing of emerging materials, approaches, and technology. This important work will rely heavily on collaboration amongst our industry and community partners, investing resources to mock up, test, and share our experiences broadly to improve the way we build.

Do you believe innovations like this are the future of the contracting industry? Why or why not?

I have been fortunate in my career to be part of some of the most iconic and innovative projects in the PNW such as the Bertschi School built in 2011, which was one of the first fully certified Living Building projects in the world. Creating new paths and methods for material products and construction methods is continuingly needed in our industry. With the aging workforce, we anticipate a shortage of skilled craftsmen in the upcoming years. Without innovations like artificial intelligence and prefabrication, building will not be able to continue at its current pace.

What does HITT Contracting’s pipeline look like in markets such as the Puget Sound over the next couple of years?

Established in 2016 to meet the demands of our national clients, our PNW office provides construction services to new and existing clients. From small service projects and single office build-outs to corporate campus headquarters – no matter the size or scope – we remain nimble and focused on delivering high quality environments for our clients. Nationally, our diversification across regions and markets leads to a robust projection for 2020. We also anticipate a continued growth for our PNW region and the West Coast.

With respect to the Puget Sound, is there a particular product type that is most common in HITT Contracting’s portfolio? Why or why not?

Our office specializes in tenant improvements, historic renovations, technology, hospitality, and healthcare facilities for private and public agencies. The Seattle market is unique in that the types of projects that present themselves are diverse and innovative. This drives contractors to outperform other regions in creativity and variety of project delivery.

The U.S. is now one year out from tariffs imposed on foreign steel. What has been the impact of these tariffs? How has HITT Contracting responded to the implementation of these tariffs?                 

The United States currently imports 30 percent of the steel it uses. At the end of Q1 2018, domestic steel prices were already on the rise, climbing 20 percent from Jan to mid-March due to the strong economy and premature tariff speculation. By December 2018, steel prices had increased 41 percent since the beginning of the year and hit a seven year high of $1,029 per net ton. HITT responded to the tariffs by proactively having conversations with clients around the risk that these tariffs present, such as material price escalation and disruption to the supply chain. We also suggested that our clients take proactive measures to minimize the effects including purchasing the steel in advance to lock in prices and availability.

In your opinion, are the tariffs beneficial or detrimental to the industry?

In the short term, higher costs on any facet of construction can have adverse effects on project returns and ultimately impede the project cycle.

Is there anything else you would like to add that The Registry did not mention?

CREW Seattle – Nationally recognized with the 2016 CREW Network Impact Award, I am one of the founders and instructors of the CREW Seattle Leadership Series which provides participants with an invaluable opportunity to develop leadership skills while forming strong relationships with industry peers and thought leaders. Applications are currently being accepted for the 2019-2020 course.

NAIOP WA – As the Board liaison to the newly formed Diversity & Inclusion Committee for NAIOP Washington, I am committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. How we define diversity is broader than just the physical dimensions, such as gender or ethnicity. What shapes each of our unique perspectives comes from a combination of elements that include the physical, but also hundreds of other elements such as where we were raised, family background, religion, education, work experience, political views, and so on.

Beyond being simply the right thing to do, there’s a strong business case for cultivating diversity. Studies widely show that diverse teams are better teams. They outperform homogenous teams, both financially and in their ability to develop and implement innovative solutions.

Bringing together different perspectives and skill sets is only part of the solution. When you join a conversation or a meeting, think about those sitting around the table. Is there a visible or perhaps non-physical difference that could make your team members feel excluded?

I was once in a project meeting, and as I looked around the table, I realized that 14 of the 15 people in attendance were women – the owner’s rep, architects, engineers, and construction team included. This, of course, is unusual in our business, so I asked everyone to pause a moment to reflect on this unusual situation. I then asked the man to share his experience of being the minority in the room, and what we found is that in that moment, he felt excluded in a way many at the table could relate to, having often been the sole women on a team or in a meeting. This was a very impactful moment, and we each reflected on the idea that anyone can be the minority in a given moment. For me, this experience highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion for everyone in the room.

My challenge to each of you – my colleagues, design partners, clients, and friends – is this: be a champion for inclusiveness. Make it your mission to learn about each of the people on your team, at the table, or on your project. Be known as the “includer” and accept that title proudly. Diversity and inclusion may be a corporate responsibility, but every one of us has the power to make everyone in the room feel welcome and included. Diversity drives powerful results worth striving for together.