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Marek Recognizes Milestones in Workforce Development Program

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Authored by Elizabeth McPherson and originally published on ConstructionCitizen.com.

Many successful companies have taken the skilled labor shortage into their own hands and have developed their own training programs to supply their needs for skilled craft professionals. Marek is one such company, and on July 29 Marek took the time to honor several employees who have achieved milestones within their Workforce Development (WFD) Program.  Twenty-two graduating Helpers, seven graduating Mechanics, and twelve recently promoted Foremen, along with their coaches and their families attended a dinner and graduation ceremony at the Marek offices in Houston.  Each graduate stood with their favorite coach in front of the crowd as their career accomplishments and praise from their coaches were read aloud by Saied Alavi, Director of Operations at Marek Houston.

That evening, I spoke with one of the Helper graduates, Gloria Palau (whom I interviewed earlier this year at a jobsite), and WFD Head Coach, Aurelio Flores, about what graduating to this level means, and what’s next for Palau.  Flores said:

“As a graduating Helper, Gloria has now completed the basic level of training. We have talked with some of her coaches and supervisors and they agree that she is ready to take some advanced classes such as Advanced Blueprints, NCCER, and Coach Qualification.  Just because we send someone to the Coach Qualification class, that doesn’t mean that she knows everything.  She is still learning, but the information in that class is very important for her.  Whenever she has the opportunity to work with new people, she will have a better idea of what to do and how to pass her knowledge to a new generation.”

Standing in front of the board containing photos of the current participants in the WFD program, Flores explained that most of these advanced classes are taught at the Marek facility, usually in the evenings after work.  Often the students are paid for their time, especially those students like Gloria who drive to the Marek office in Houston from more distant jobsites such as Galveston or College Station.  “That way they can go to these classes, complete whatever they need to complete, and advance through the different levels: basic, mechanic, and leadman levels.”

Classes cover subjects such as Basic Blueprints, Basic Construction Math, Advanced Blueprints, and Power Tools.  In the Power Tools classes, students get hands-on experience with all of the tools used throughout the company – giving them a chance to learn proper technique and safety for the tools that they have not had the opportunity to use on the particular jobsites where they have worked so far.

I asked Palau what graduating as a Helper adds to her work résumé.  She replied:

“Now I am a little bit more familiar with the tools, with the types of screws one has to use for a particular job.  I will be able to identify what is needed in order to complete my work, depending on what it is.  Whether it is sheetrock ceiling framing, framing walls, framing columns, framing shell spaces, shaft walls – [each] requires different equipment, different material, different screws.”

Palau said that now instead of being told what she needs in order to complete a task, she can receive an assignment and know exactly which tools and materials she needs to collect.  Flores agreed.  He said she has done a very good job from the beginning, applying new skills to her work as she learned them.  Flores offered his appreciation to her coaches and foremen – Luis Espitia, David McMillan, and Edmundo Costilla – and also gave Palau credit for retaining the knowledge they taught her.

Gloria observed that sometimes she is able to share her knowledge with new employees.  She said “Me being fresh, I think I understand someone who is coming in because I know their struggles.  Whereas with someone who is senior, he might say ‘This is common sense.’  And I say ‘No, it is NOT common sense!’”

Next Flores introduced me to the other three female Helper graduates: Tatiana Chavez, Jeniffer Brown, and Monique Ford.  Brown and Ford work in the acoustical ceilings department, and Chavez works in MechoShades.  I asked how long it takes to complete the Marek WFD training.  Brown explained that it varies – it can take up to three years, but it often takes about one year to complete the basic Helper level.  Ford said that in fact she has only been working and training there for 11 months.  She said:

“After you finish the Helper level, you start on the Mechanic level.  You really are never stuck with Marek.  They give you the opportunity.  If you deserve it, you are going to get it.”

Ford added, “With this program you always have a coach working with you at all times – it is very helpful.  Also Aurelio comes by every week and checks on us to see how we are advancing, and he talks with our coach.  It is a very helpful program. “

Chavez said enthusiastically, “It’s very challenging at times, but they always help you – the coaches are very helpful.  I’ve been working here for six or seven months, and they have been very helpful to me.”

Brown said, “That is true.  Also, we have all the tools we need provided for us.  All the questions we have [are answered].  If one person cannot help, he will find someone who can answer your question.”

Flores said that mentorship and coaching go hand in hand.  “We have to do as much as we can to make sure that these ladies and the other guys advance and complete all the levels successfully.”

I asked how they became interested in careers in construction.

Ford: “I wanted to try something different, and I like it.”

Brown: “Marek gives opportunity to everybody, and what Aurelio just said about the personnel, they really care for us.  One thing I really like about our company is they say we are a family, and it is true.  I have experienced – I’ve been part of that.  I’ve lived some really hard moments right here.  I am out here by myself, and they support me every time.”

Chavez:  “I’ve always found it interesting.  I like a challenge.  It’s a challenge because it is supposedly a man’s job.  Once you see a woman actually doing a hard job, it surprises everybody, but it is proof that we can do it too.”

Finally, I spoke with Caleb Fitzgerald, another Helper graduate who earned his title working in Marek’s drywall department.  His goal is to continue learning, working, and advancing until he becomes a Marek Superintendent.  His father is a Superintendent, and Fitzgerald hopes to become one also.  Before coming to Houston, Fitzgerald worked for a concrete company in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He said that was how he became interested in the construction industry.  “Before that I never dreamed that I would be working in construction, or enjoy it as much as I do.”

I asked about his current job at Marek.  Fitzgerald said, “Right now I work for the drywall department.  I frame the walls, put the sheetrock on them.  I also know how to build acoustical ceilings – things like that.”

When I asked him what his favorite part of working in construction is, he answered:

“My favorite part is being able to go back afterwards and see the finished product – being able to look at everything I have done and say ‘Wow, that turned out really beautiful!’  It just gives you a good feeling.”

You can watch excerpts from these interviews in the 7-minute video below, and look for a summary of the speech given by the evening’s keynote speaker, John Roberts of Jones Lang LaSalle, in an upcoming blog.


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