Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Moving the Industry Forward With a Welcoming Workplace

With more attention being paid to discrimination and all forms of harassment in the workplace, employers are finding new and innovative ways to address unwanted behavior while creating a more welcoming workplace for all employees. This is true in the sheet metal industry as well.

As part of this rising trend in workforce-led efforts to reduce jobsite harassment, employers are focusing on revamping the training process. Previously, the emphasis was on complying with the law. Now, more employers are concentrating on the kind of culture that’s acceptable in an organization. Increasingly, sheet metal contractors are ensuring that equal opportunity employment (EEO) training is done on a regular basis.

Employers have also shifted the spotlight of EEO training to ensure that “key employees are more aware of what goes on and understand that they are responsible for their crew and that they have to make sure they are treated fairly,” said Angela Simon, president, Western Allied Mechanical.

A shift in company leadership and Joint Apprentice Training Centers (JATCs) is also occurring by taking more responsibility for changing the culture in their workplaces. Some JATC trustees are ensuring that instructors receive regular EEO training. A few areas are also encouraging JATCs to include time in their apprentice curriculum for apprentices to learn their rights as employees and to speak up if they witness or experience discrimination or harassment.

The next step, some employers believe, is for contractors to support worker-led efforts to address workplace harassment. This can take the form of placing attention on bystander intervention. This approach attempts to ensure that the onus isn’t on the victim alone. It is the “if you see something, say something” approach.

The SMART union is advocating that its locals and jobsite leaders use the “see something, say something” approach to encourage co-workers to intervene on behalf of those “targeted” for hostility. The union is also encouraging employers to support these interventions.

At its Business Agents Conference in Florida, the SMART union told its locals’ leadership about the concept of “bystander” training, and the more action-based “upstander training.” This encourages others in the shop or on the jobsite to speak out when they witness hazing, bullying, and harassment. This culture of not saying anything can be rooted in such barriers to intervention as work, social, or personal obstacles, but these barriers can be overcome with a culture that supports “upstanding.”

Positive change comes down to embracing a culture that believes one truth that outweighs any other factor, “that the individual on the job is the best person for the job,” said Karen Fox, president, Precision Air Balance. “The industry needs to be open to the awareness that anyone can excel if one puts his or her mind to it. Workers just need the opportunity to show what they can do.”

Companies that embrace these attitudes will be leading the industry forward with a rich and diverse workforce.