The metropolitan school districts of Lawrence and Washington Townships in Indianapolis are working to move the needle on supplier diversity and workforce development. Voters in each district passed referendums on capital improvement projects totaling more than $600 million and as part of the deal, minority-owned businesses will have more opportunities in the architectural and construction side of those projects and students will be able to intern and work for crews on their respective campuses.
Washington Township Schools Capital Projects Manager Jim Boots and Lawrence Township Schools Superintendent Dr. Shawn Smith discussed the efforts on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.
Smith says the board of education in Lawrence Township took the lead in wanting to bring more minority-owned businesses to the table. He says the district took a different approach than just a traditional Request for Proposals to find minority-owned businesses to participate.
“We networked. We talked with other companies and even in the private sector the minority companies that are out there and certainly invited them in to talk to them and meet them so we could better understand what they were able to do,” Smith said. “So we were very aggressive in our approach to go out and seek them out and then through the RFP process, bringing those companies in and interviewing them alongside other companies to find the best talent that was out there.”
Boots says there are a lot of smaller minority-owned businesses that may understand the process to get involved with major projects, which was a challenge.
“It’s getting them teamed up with the proper partners to assist them and help them grow. Obviously, they want to learn,” said Boots. “They want to know how to conduct business with a large school district and be successful and at the same time, they are often looking for ways to meet those partners.”
Another important aspect of the projects, says Boots, is incorporating students. He says for Washington Township, getting the commitment from businesses involved with the capital projects to bring on students as interns was key.
“Currently, we have two students identified and employed by some of our professional partners. To date, we’ve got about $30 million in what we term XBE participation in our construction programs and another $15 million in our professional partners programs, being design and engineering companies. So, that provides a great opportunity for a lot of our students to take advantage of those internships.”
Smith adds getting students involved is a “no brainer” as many companies are looking for talent.