Lauri Rollings never planned on become an executive of a construction trade association. She started out as a lawyer, working first as a litigator in a large private fi rm and then moving to an in-house counsel role for a large public utility in Wisconsin.
But along the way she was asked to help a Milwaukee based construction trade association with upcoming labor negotiations. Ready for a career change, she ended up taking a role as an associate director with the group and eventually moved into the role as executive director.
Last year, she moved to Oregon to begin a new job as executive director of the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association, which is based in Beaverton.
Rollings sat down with Opportunity magazine recently to talk about how the construction industry’s increasing willingness to work in a more collaborative manner is allowing her to better serve her association’s members and the local building industry in general. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
OPPORTUNITY MAGAZINE: Tell our readers a little about your organization.
LAURI ROLLINGS: We are a nonprofit trade association that is designed to bring contractors in the plumbing and mechanical industry together for purposes of labor relations with our union partner, which is the United Association of Journeymen Plumbers and Steamfitters of the United States and Canada. So, our labor partner is UA Local 209 and they are the union that represents plumbers and steamfitters. Their jurisdiction includes most of Oregon and parts of Southwestern Washington, and the northernmost two counties of California.
What my association does is provide labor relations support for day-to-day questions about interpreting contracts and handling disputes between union members and contractors. We also provide education, resources and networking events so contractors can get together and share best practices.
OM: That idea of sharing what works is very important these days, isn’t it?
LR: Oh, absolutely. Construction is a very low-margin business. The more you can learn from your peers about how to work safety and efficiently, the better off you are.
There’s a still a little bit of guarding those innermost secrets. But associations like mine were formed for the purpose of employers getting together and working with each other to figure out how to best negotiate a contract with their labor counterparts, for example. They’ve evolved over time into collaborating on things like recruiting new people into the industry, and providing continuing education to people who already are in the industry.
I think it’s becoming more collaborative also between labor and management as well. Our association and UA local 290, for example, have established a labor management committee. Its mission is to come up with ways that labor and management can collaborate for the purposes of furthering the interests of the industry.
We’re trying to focus more on consensus building. We understand we aren’t going to agree on every single issue, but we are taking formal steps to try and see each other’s perspective and stand in each other’s shoes so that we understand where our counterpart is coming from and can try to arrive at a solution that satisfies everyone.
OM: Right now, one of the biggest issues in the building industry is how to build a future skilled workforce. Is your organization working toward a possible solution?
LR: Right now, as the labor management committee, we are working jointly with the plumbers and steamfitters union to develop a marketing campaign that’s designed to educate parents, counselors and students about the great opportunity a career in the trades offers, and how it is actually equivalent to, or in my humble opinion better than in some cases, a four-year college degree.
One of the elements of the campaign we’re going to be working on is interviewing business owners who started out as tradespeople, asking them about their journey and why they chose to go one way or the other. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with deciding to work your whole career in the field because a lot of people do that, and they’re very satisfied and make a very good living doing that.
OM: It’s great to hear that you’re including storytelling in the campaign. That seems like an important way to reach people, especially young people, these days.
LR: I think people respond more when they hear a real person telling his or her story. They can point to tangible buildings that they helped create. That is so often a theme that I hear from people who work in the trades, that they feel such a sense of pride driving around town and showing their kids or their wife or a friend and being able to say, “I helped build that building or this building.” There are just so many rewards that come back to people who work in the trades that I think that story is really uplifting and hopefully will captivate some young people, their parents and other influencers in their lives.