"When candidates apply, they have to be tracked along with race, gender and veteran status; contractors have to show that their efforts are working in the hiring process. The final litmus test is whether you are employing a diverse work force." – Bryan May, BirdDog
"When candidates apply, they have to be tracked along with race, gender and veteran status; contractors have to show that their efforts are working in the hiring process. The final litmus test is whether you are employing a diverse work force." – Bryan May, BirdDog

The federal stimulus act has contractors looking over their shoulders when it comes to hiring workers.

“A lot of these contractors jumped into the money feet first without looking before they leaped,” said Bryan May, executive vice president at BirdDog, an Urbandale-based job recruiting firm.

The company estimates that 58 percent of its clients who obtain public works contracts were caught off guard by state and federal requirements that they comply with affirmative action and equal opportunity laws.

Getting the word out that a job is available is not as easy as “posting an ad in the newspaper,” May said.

“It’s a real shocker for a lot of people who haven’t been in the business for a long time,” he said.

Those contractors could have more cause for alarm this year. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs announced late last year that it would step up enforcement efforts.

It isn’t so much about whom you hire as how you go about hiring, May said.

The standards caused little surprise among contractors whose business had been built around public works projects. Contractors who were new to the game – those who saw their private jobs in the residential and commercial construction sectors collapse when the Great Recession struck in 2008 – had to change their hiring habits.

“If a project used $1 of federal money, then the job fell under U.S. Department of Labor oversight,” May said.

The federal stimulus plan, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, has pumped nearly $360 million into Iowa, mainly for improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure. The Iowa Department of Transportation reports that 2,777 jobs were created or preserved as a result.

May said those “Obama bucks” created a good news-bad news situation. One client reported spending $18,000 on legal fees after federal regulators conducted an audit of its hiring practices.

Associated General Contractors of Iowa and BirdDog have created a website where contractors can post job openings and construction workers can post resumes and apply for jobs. So far, more than 120 highway construction contractors participate.

With the postings and applications processed electronically, documentation is readily available for auditors.

Contractors need to seek out organizations that can spread the word about available jobs to as wide a population as possible. The outreach needs to include religious groups, nonprofits and other organizations that “yield a flow of minority and women applicants and communicate job opportunities to them,” May said.

The Department of Labor also has announced that it will monitor job outreach to veterans and people with disabilities.

“Contractors have to identify these groups,” May said. “When candidates apply, they have to be tracked along with race, gender and veteran status; contractors have to show that their efforts are working in the hiring process.

“The final litmus test is whether you are employing a diverse work force.”

AGC of Iowa and BirdDog connect contractors and job seekers at www.agciajobs.com