Shaping Infrastructure Investments: People Powered Infrastructure Campaign Update

By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth, February 19, 2024

Sixty years ago, when lawmakers invested in the interstate highway system, they could not have foreseen today’s technologically advanced infrastructure, or how workers, businesses, our economy, and nearly all of American life would rely on it. So much has changed since that 1956 law. Demand for maintaining and expanding our public transit, roads, highways, and bridges has grown exponentially. When you add that to the need for modern, cutting-edge infrastructure like electric vehicle charging networks, broadband internet, and sustainable energy systems, the urgency for investments in both hard infrastructure and in training the next generation of infrastructure workforce is palpable.

Fortunately, in 2022, our country invested roughly $2 trillion in infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Chips and Science Act. And thanks to newresearch from NSC, Blue Green Alliance and the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass Amherst, we know those laws will support nearly 3 million jobs per year over the life span of the laws. That’s19 million job-years**. 

Nearly 70% of the direct jobs supported by these new laws won’t require a college degree. Rather, they’ll require some kind of skills training – like a certificate, credential, apprenticeship or on-the-job training beyond high school.

Hiring trained workers for these jobs (and of course the success of planned infrastructure projects) hinges on a new generation of workers having access to the education, skills training, economic supports, and hiring and career advancement opportunities they need to land jobs in the booming infrastructure and clean energy sectors.

If we are serious about training the next generation of infrastructure workers – as well as ensuring that these investments contribute to an inclusive economy – we need to intentionally open the door to millions of workers who want to train for a new career in infrastructure – particularly women and workers of color.

That’s why NSC launched our People Powered Infrastructure Campaign – to urge federal and state policymakers to:

  • Expand access to skills training offered through registered apprenticeship programs and workforce programs at community and technical colleges. 
  • Invest in industry partnerships in the infrastructure field and support their capacity to engage in equity-advancing practices. 
  • Provide economic support like childcare and transportation to make skills training and career transitions possible.
  • Incentivize and support training, hiring, and career advancement of local residents.
  • Collect data and report on jobs outcomes of federal infrastructure spending with attention to race, gender, and geography. 

Thanks in part to our coalition’s steady advocacy – including the influence of NSC and Business Leaders United’s expert industry recovery panels (and the perspectives we offered to the Biden Administration and Congress) these historic, once-in-a-generation infrastructure investments present many opportunities to invest in skills training and workforce – but those training-specific investments won’t be realized without our advocacy. Policymakers have a lot of work left to do to truly support people powered infrastructure and drive an inclusive economy – and that’s what our campaign will be focused on through 2024.

Implementing infrastructure and clean energy investments in the states

In the states, NSC is turning our attention to assisting state coalitions and state network partners to influence implementation of the law through policy and advocacy campaigns and technical assistance. At the end of last year, we released Building the Future Workforce – a playbook for state policymakers, governors, advocates and state agency leaders who want to cultivate a strong, diverse, multigenerational infrastructure workforce. The playbook will be a north star for our planned assistance to state partners. It offers six recommendations and four case studies that illustrate how state policymakers can connect more working people to quality infrastructure and clean energy jobs and create benefits for residents, businesses, and communities that rely on the implementation and maintenance of critical infrastructure.

Our Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships campaign plans to leverage business voices in support of equitable skills training policies in the states, particularly to expand and diversify the clean energy workforce. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act includes several tax credits to incentivize and finance clean energy projects, but employers must meet apprenticeship requirements to maximize the value of the credits. In April, BLU leaders will be hosting clean energy employers and a range of stakeholders to examine how states can expand apprenticeships and other investments in inclusive skills training to meet the demand for a skilled and diverse workforce in this growing industry.

Influencing federal policymakers

NSC is also focused on implementation at the federal level and plans to bring the expertise of our coalition partners to policymakers at four key agencies – the departments of Energy, Transportation, Commerce and Labor to inform and guide implementation of the federal infrastructure laws through the regulatory process. We’ll be reaching out to our coalition with opportunities for comment and other occasions for advocacy.

On Capitol Hill this year, we’ll be following the progress of the BUILDS Act, bipartisan legislation introduced in the House by Representatives Bonamici (D-OR) and Thompson (R-PA) (There’s a companion bill in the Senate by Senator Kaine (D-VA)). The BUILDS Act would provide workers with skills needed to fill infrastructure jobs by creating new grants for industry partnerships in the infrastructure sector. The bill includes funding for support services like childcare and transportation to help workers to complete the program. Passing the BUILDS Act would be a step toward meeting our nation’s infrastructure workforce needs. This year, we’ll be advocating for BUILDS or for its language to be included in WIOA authorization.

We’ll also be closely following the appropriations process and the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). While investments from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Chips and Science Act included some workforce development programs, the laws were not accompanied by the robust package of investments that NSC coalition partners advocated for. NSC will be looking for opportunities for our coalition to influence the annual appropriations process and WIOA reauthorization conversations to ensure that the workforce system can support the infrastructure jobs being created. And we’ll be urging against proposed cuts to non-defense discretionary spending that would impact the workforce system’s ability to support training and supportive services for individuals trying to access infrastructure careers.

Join our Campaign for People Powered Infrastructure!

Throughout 2024, we’ll be calling upon our network – workforce advocates and business leaders alike – to weigh in on implementation and legislation – including meeting in person with legislators on Capitol Hill at the 2024 Skills Summit. You can register for the Summit to learn more about upcoming skills legislation and share your expertise with federal policymakers and their staff.

If you haven’t joined our People Powered Infrastructure Campaign yet – sign our petition today and stay tuned for opportunities to shape investments in local, state, and federal skills training policy that will build an inclusive infrastructure workforce.

** A job-year is one person working at one job for one year.