Congress introduces bipartisan BUILDS Act to support an infrastructure workforce

By Katie Spiker, May 16, 2019

New legislation introduced this week by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI 10), Bonamici (D-OR 1), Thompson (R-PA 15), and Langevin (D-RI 2), the Building U.S. Infrastructure By leveraging Demand for Skills Act — or BUILDS Act — takes an important first step towards investing in skills and supports workers need to meet business demand in infrastructure industries. The BUILDS Act would provide grants to help train workers and support services — like childcare, pre-employment training, transportation, and career counseling — to help workers succeed in work-based learning programs.

There is no better time than Infrastructure Week to highlight the critical updates to our nation’s infrastructure that are needed to ensure public safety. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our infrastructure a D+ grade, and we have more than 56,000 bridges across the country that are structurally deficient; an estimated 188 million trips are taken across these structurally deficient bridges each day.

There is growing bipartisan support for an infrastructure package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer walked out of a recent White House meeting with an apparent agreement with President Trump to do something “big and bold” on infrastructure – to the tune of $2 trillion.

Businesses in infrastructure are already facing intense labor shortages. A report from the Departments of Education and Labor project 68 percent more job openings in infrastructure over the next five years than students training to fill them. According to the report, we’ll need to increase our infrastructure workforce by 4.6 million workers by 2022 just to keep pace with hiring needs — a number that doesn’t even factor the millions of new jobs a potential $2 trillion infrastructure investment would create.

Investing in local partnerships between businesses, human services providers, and workforce and education systems will allow us to expand work-based learning programs so that workers have the skills to fill these new infrastructure jobs.

The BUILDS Act would support implementation grants of up to $2.5 million over three years – and renewal grants of up to $1.5 million – to partnerships comprised of multiple employers in a target industry, education or training providers, labor organizations, local workforce boards, and other stakeholders where appropriate. Partnerships would be required to carry out business engagement activities that support the development of short- and long-term talent pipelines, including:

  • Assistance in navigating the registration process for registered apprenticeship;
  • Connecting businesses and education providers for development of classroom curriculum to complement on-the-job learning;
  • Serving as employers of record for participants in work-based learning programs for a transitional period;
  • Training managers and front-line workers to serve as mentors to work-based learning participants; and
  • Helping businesses recruit individuals for work-based learning, particularly individuals being served in the workforce system or by other human service agencies.

Partnerships would also provide support services to ensure participant success in work based learning. These services would be divided between three stages:

  • Pre-employment: prior to a work-based learning participant entering employment, the members of the partnership would provide support and training necessary to ensure the worker was prepared to enter a work-based learning or apprenticeship program. At this stage, the partnership may provide skills training, work attire and tools necessary for the work site, wrap around services such as childcare and transportation and job placement assistance;
  • Early employment: During the first six months of the participant’s connection to the employer, the partnership would provide continued support to ease the transition for both the worker and the business. For example, a partnership could serve as an employer of record for a transitional period and provide subsidized wages from grant funds, as well as provide continuing case management and support services, mentoring, and training necessary to ensure the participant’s continued connection to the program; and
  • Continuing employment: after the participant is on-boarded to the company, the grant recipient would provide at least 6 months of continuing support necessary to ensure participants are able to succeed in work-based learning programs.


Polling this year found 64 percent of small and mid-sized business owners say increased government funding for support services to help people finish skills training programs will help their business. 81 percent of likely 2020 voters also agree that we should increase government funding for support services to help people complete skills training programs.

Investing in our nation’s infrastructure is critical. But so is investing in the workers to fill those infrastructure jobs. NSC applauds Senators Kaine and Portman and Representatives Mitchell, Bonamici, Thompson, and Langevin for working together to do both.