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EDC-7 will feature two innovations that help agencies grow an inclusive workforce. These innovations will provide a new, more effective, way to implement the disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) program for design-build projects and help agencies expand their highway construction workforce.

Rethinking DBE for Design Build

The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program ensures that federally assisted contracting opportunities for highway, transit, and aviation projects are made available for small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Administration of the program, as regulated by 49 CFR Part 26, has traditionally been applied to design-bid-build project delivery, but increasingly, agencies are using alternative project delivery contracting methods, such as design-build (DB), to improve efficient delivery.

DB is a popular alternative contracting method where the project sponsor contracts with the most qualified team to both design and build the project. DB contracting is used frequently on larger, complex highway and bridge projects. Unlike design-bid-build project delivery, in the DB model, the project is not fully designed, and details of available subcontracting opportunities are not yet known prior to contract award.  This creates a challenge for proposers to name specific firms for a specific cost in their DBE goal commitment plan. In some instances, proposers may submit documented good faith efforts instead of actual subcontracting commitments, thereby limiting opportunities for small, disadvantaged firms.

In response to this problem, a few States have begun using an open-ended performance plan (OEPP) as a commitment to meeting the DBE goal without including all named DBEs.  An OEPP is a modified DBE commitment plan that allows the proposer to list anticipated work types for planned DBE participation throughout the life of the project supported by a schedule for when actual DBE subcontracting will come to fruition. This type of plan, specifically for DB contracting, serves as a roadmap detailing how the DBE goal will be achieved. The project sponsor then monitors the OEPP throughout the project to ensure the design bidder is following the schedule and soliciting DBEs to perform the anticipated work types. The OEPP is flexible, however; changes to the plan, as agreed by the project sponsor and the DB team, are likely since opportunities for DBEs should align with the fluid and dynamic conditions of a DB project.

To support the adoption and implementation of OEPPs FHWA is offering a toolkit with templates, sample language for proposals and contracts, oversight and monitoring examples, case studies, and training materials.

The methods and tools promoted by this innovation for DB projects can offer greater opportunities for DBEs, flexibility in how the DB teams will achieve the goal, reduction in risk to comply with DBE program requirements, and efficiency in oversight for project sponsors by reducing resource-intensive good faith efforts reviews and other associated administrative actions.

Stay up-to-date on Rethinking DBE for Design BuildSubscribe to DBE e-News to receive updates on webinars, case studies, videos, and more. To learn more about Rethinking DBE for Design Build, please contact Christine ThorkildsenMartha Kenley, or Eric Ross, FHWA Office of Civil Rights.  

Strategic Workforce Development

The demand for highway construction, maintenance, and operations workers is growing while industry is experiencing a revolution of emerging technologies that will require new skills. To attract and retain workers in the contractors’ workforce, new resources are available to help State, local, and tribal communities compete with other industries and demonstrate the value of a career in transportation. Increasing the highway construction workforce can help communities thrive while solving one of today’s most persistent national transportation problems and offers an opportunity to recruit underrepresented groups, including minorities and women, to jobs that can change their lives.

According to a 2021 national survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 89 percent of construction firms reported difficulty finding qualified workers and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that construction occupations are projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031.

FHWA partnered with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, AGC, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration to bring together various parties interested in workforce development in the highway construction field. One result of this partnership is a highway construction workforce development playbook called “Identify, Train, Place.” This playbook helps State, local, and tribal communities identify, train, and place workers in the contractor workforce to meet resource needs to deliver highway construction projects. The playbook includes simple, repeatable “plays” that departments of transportation (DOTs), workforce development boards, community colleges, non-profits, and contractors can use. The plays reflect solutions to workforce development challenges and are customizable to local needs. Additionally, with its workforce partners, FHWA developed a comprehensive toolkit, with factsheets, profiles, case studies, and marketing materials.

Stay up to date on Strategic Workforce Development (SWD) and subscribe to SWD e-news. To learn more about SWD, please contact Chrisy Currier or Joe Conway, FHWA Office of Innovative Program Delivery Center for Transportation Workforce Development.

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