Meet Luis Sandoval, Executive Director of Building Skills Partnership
Growing up in both Mexicali, a border town in Mexico, and Salinas, California, Luis Sandoval couldn’t help but take notice of the barriers that prevented him and other immigrants from accessing career and educational opportunities. Inspired by his personal experience of growing up in a family of workers in property and cleaning services, construction, and agriculture jobs, and who also sought to improve job quality in these sectors, Luis now leads efforts to support property service workers in California – 61 percent of whom are immigrants.
“The work I do now, I see through my own lens of experience,” Luis says. “This work is personal, since both my parents and I have worked as janitors at one point.”
As executive director of Building Skills Partnership (BSP), Luis is committed to ensuring that California property service workers and their families can access the skills and support they need in order to thrive. BSP, a grantee partner of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, helps to improve the workers’ quality of life.
Born out of the Justice for Janitors movement in the early 2000s, BSP addresses the unique barriers that these individuals face in and out of the workplace. Key programs developed by BSP include the Green Janitor Education Program, which provides hands-on energy management and training in green cleaning, giving janitors a seat at the sustainability table while reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, and a parent education and engagement program which seeks to support property service workers’ efforts to improve educational opportunities for their children and be their children’s advocates.
Since Luis joined BSP in 2010, he has overseen numerous initiatives that support immigrant workers – through on-the-job training and education, as well as financial coaching, civic engagement, and vocational English language programs.
Luis is especially proud of BSP’s response to the difficulties property service workers and their families are experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spring of 2020, BSP launched an Infectious Disease Certification Program, which equips workers with the tools and knowledge to protect themselves and maintain clean, healthy workspaces for themselves and building tenants. The program has had a positive impact not only on individual workers, but across the industry. Beyond helping to keep property service workers and the public safe, the program also supported widespread recognition of the critical role of essential workers in the pandemic response, and it has been adopted across California and is currently being launched in other states.
Incorporating worker voices is central to BSP’s mission. When launching the Infectious Disease Certification Program and the Green Janitor Education Program, BSP used worker feedback to ensure that programs were uniquely tailored to worker needs.
“Workers are the experts, so their perspectives should be central when coming up with solutions to workplace challenges,” Luis notes. “It’s all about being intentional and providing the time and space for them to share.”
Looking toward BSP’s future, Luis is excited about what lies ahead, including a new labor management and career pathways program for airport workers, who like property service workers, are largely an immigrant workforce and face many of the same career and economic mobility barriers. Other projects on the horizon involve utilizing remote learning to benefit workers, creating roadmaps and partnerships with higher education institutions, building alliances between Black and Brown workers, and investing in the professional and personal development of BSP’s staff.
Reflecting on his work, Luis emphasizes the importance of authenticity and proximate leadership, or being a leader with experience from the community he serves.
“Be unapologetically passionate and work to truly understand the communities you support,” Luis advises aspiring immigrant leaders. “As an immigrant, you may see yourself in a lens that shows your deficits because you have a different background – but your proximity to the communities and issues is a powerful asset.”