San Diego Mentor-Protégé Program Boosts Skills for Veteran-owned Business

 |  Building, Diversity, Education

You’ve probably heard by now: construction is facing a major shortage of skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen, and there’s no quick fix. However, in San Diego and other core markets, Sundt has been partnering with diverse and veteran-owned businesses to help build up a professional, self-sufficient and qualified subcontractor base. This was the vision behind our Building Group, California District’s first Mentor-Protégé program, which kicked off earlier this year.

On our Morse High School site modernization project, veteran-owned ProVet Engineering and Concrete won the bid for the phase II concrete scope. According to small business coordinator De Anna Andrews, the timing and the company were ideal for our first California Mentor-Protégé program. “I actually met Dustin (ProVet president) at an outreach event seven or eight years ago,” De Anna said. “I remember from that first impression that Dustin and his business had their act together, and that they’d be a great candidate for a program like this.”

two craft workers for provet pour a concrete wall
At Morse High School in southeast San Diego, Sundt is performing $46.5 million of combined work for Phase II and III of the school’s site modernization. This includes renovation of existing classrooms, a new administration building and performing arts center, and site improvements for utilities, parking, and ADA compliance. The concrete scope for the $9 million phase II was performed by ProVet.
A Best-Practices Boot Camp, a COVID-sized Curveball

For the six-month, 12-session Mentor-Protégé program, Sundt employee-owners across several disciplines assisted ProVet’s team with one-on-one coaching, shadowing and on-the-job training. The program began in February and ends this month, and consisted of multiple hour-long sessions each month covering anything and everything in the construction business. Topics ranged from understanding RFPs to qualifying for OSHA certifications, to insurance and bonding, to actual concrete methods in the field such as difficult top-cast finishes.

A month and a half into the program, the state’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place order went into effect, and program facilitators and coaches had to adapt. “It was already a new program, and then we had to go digital,” said De Anna. “But I was really proud of our people. They got on video calls, and got out to the jobsite when necessary to make it happen.”

A Proper Mentorship Needs an Added Challenge

According to senior project manager Martin O’Brien, there were substantial delays at the project’s start due to unstable soil conditions, unknown utilities and inclement weather. “It was outside of ProVet’s control, but we were really under the gun for the concrete scope from the start,” said Martin.

two craft workers for provet pour a concrete wall
A newly placed slab, part of ProVet Engineering and Concrete’s work on phase II of the Morse High School site modernization project.

Despite some minor setbacks, ProVet rallied and completed sections in time for phasing to stay on track. “To their credit, they were able to make the right fixes and hit our deadlines,” said Martin. Along the way, employee-owners Mike Damme and Dinesh Allam were instrumental in providing on-site coaching and quality control when needed.

“Working for large general contractors can sometimes be intimidating,” said ProVet President Dustin Hayes. However, in this case, Dustin said he walked away with tools to help him and ProVet grow and succeed: “Leading a growing business, this is one of my greatest accomplishments to not only be a subcontractor for but to be mentored by Sundt. I’m thankful for the knowledge they shared along the way.”

A Successful Result, But Just the Beginning

De Anna, who facilitated the program, was quick to point out that this was a team effort from operations and support personnel spread out across the company. “All I did was set things in motion. Our coaches and our leadership were the real reason for the program’s success. Without the push from Sundt’s senior leaders, none of this would have gotten off the ground.”

The buy-in from all levels of Sundt’s California District and the momentum from a successful first program are factors that DeAnna hopes to build on for the next round. “Our goal would be to ideally do three of these programs a year in California, given the right protégé fit and the right project,” said DeAnna. “Right now, we’re going through the feedback we received, and we’ll continue refining our process. Overall, the benefits to the subcontractor community and to Sundt are clear. We’re looking forward to the next opportunity.”

“This Mentor-Protégé program offers a well-rounded approach. Sharing knowledge from both perspectives of a successful GC and subcontractor lets the protégé build around their strengths and address their challenges. Using a coaching approach helps all of that new learning to ‘stick’ and adds wisdom that can’t be found elsewhere.”

Joe LaRussa, industry veteran and program technical consultant with Nelson Leadership

Upcoming Veterans in Business Networking Event

Our Mentor-Protégé sponsor, the Veterans in Business (VIB) Network, is hosting its national conference via virtual format on October 12 and 13. This is a great opportunity for general contractors and veteran-owned businesses to network, learn and share ideas. All Virtual VIB Conference attendees will receive access to motivational speakers, business matchmaking sessions, informative seminars and panel discussions, an opportunity expo, VIB virtual concert, games, networking and more. To register, visit