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On June 14th, the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus hosted a briefing in conjunction with Business Leaders United and National Skills Coalition called “Building America’s Infrastructure Workforce.” The briefing explored how the administration’s investment in infrastructure initiatives would create millions of new jobs for Americans who are currently out of work, underemployed, or seeking higher wages. The policy recommendations discussed in the briefing can be found here.
Senator Baldwin, one of the four CTE Caucus co-chairs, opened the briefing with comments on the importance of investing in sector partnerships and apprenticeship in in-demand industries.
Industry leaders and Congressional support
BLU brought together two industry-led workforce partnerships to share best practices and policy recommendations to support workforce development in infrastructure. Dawn Pratt, from The Walbec Group, and Mark Kessenich, from WRTP/Big STEP. The Walbec Group is a family of companies that provide professional infrastructure construction and engineering services. Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership / Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP/BIG STEP) helps Dawn’s companies run work-based learning programs and develop a skilled pool of construction workers for The Walbec Group’s projects.
Pat Steele, the Site Director for Central Iowa Works and Dr. Matt Bruinekool, a consultant at Master Builders of Iowa completed the panel. Central Iowa Works is a regional sector partnership that has helped local businesses, including those with which Matt works, meet workforce demands by expanding populations of workers with access to training to get the skills necessary for the transportation logistics and distribution jobs in central Iowa.
NSC’s Senior Federal Policy Analyst Katie Spiker facilitated the briefing.
Sector partnership and work-based learning, demystified
The panelists shared how employers and other stakeholders are partnering to develop workforce pipelines in infrastructure sectors and why these partnerships have become vital to their success. Both employers on the panel emphasized the importance of their partnerships with the regional sector partnerships in their area. Dawn described the importance of being able to reach out to just one entity, Mark’s organization, when her companies need new workers or when she was developing training programs and needed to work with community colleges, unions or other stakeholders in the community. Matt added that Pat’s organization provides training before workers were on the job as well as support services once workers were employed, making it possible for his employers to increase productivity and be confident in the skills and retention of their workers.
Both employers also emphasized the importance of the partnerships connecting workers with supportive services. Pat described his organization’s provision of transportation services to new workers, a service that ensures workers can make it to their worksites.
Mark emphasized that while these services are vital to the retention of good workers and continued productivity for WRTP/Big Step’s business partners, work-based learning programming and support services can be expensive. He emphasized the importance of Congressional investments in current job training programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and including investment in workforce development in any upcoming Congressional infrastructure bill.
Together, they started a dialogue about the benefits of investing in human capital and how federal policy can support these innovative strategies.
Exposure and reach
Representatives from more than a dozen Congressional offices attended the briefing. While in DC, Pat and Matt met with Senator Ernst’s office about the importance of supporting workforce training and education programs and including these priorities in upcoming infrastructure legislation. The panelists also took a meeting with the Department of Transportation Senior Program Advisor, Marilyn Shazor, to explain how they have used sector partnerships to fill skilled positions in the industry.
President Trump visited Dawn and Mark’s home state of Wisconsin the day before the briefing to talk about jobs. In response to this visit and the President’s previous call to drastically cut federal investments in job training and education, Dawn and Mark spoke with the Washington Post about their reliance on federal investments to support infrastructure workforce pipelines.