Campaign Update: People Powered Infrastructure 2023

April 03, 2023

In November 2021, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA – the bipartisan infrastructure law) – an investment of nearly $1 trillion aimed at rebuilding our nation’s roads and bridges, expanding broadband, and upgrading public transit, utility, and energy systems. Then in August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act was enacted. This law includes roughly $500 billion in investments to address climate change, reduce healthcare costs, and make tax changes. These landmark laws are expected to create millions of good-paying jobs over the next decade – but if these historic efforts at job creation are to contribute to an inclusive, equitable economy, that means investing in people as well as hard infrastructure.

Investing in people means training a diverse, multi-generational workforce to power our infrastructure over the next decade and beyond. It intentionally opens the doors to millions of workers who want a new career in infrastructure, particularly workers of color, women, and immigrants. These workers have long been underrepresented in quality careers in infrastructure fields and were also disproportionately working in in industries impacted by the COVID-19 recession

Employers in the infrastructure sector have been looking for ways to broaden their talent pipeline, as they experience the challenge of an aging, retiring workforce. The federal infrastructure investments have only heightened the demand for trained workers. And the success of planned infrastructure projects hinges on a new generation of workers having access to the education, skills training, and economic supports they need to access good jobs and careers in this booming sector.

That’s why, since these bills were first being debated in Congress, National Skills Coalition’s People Powered Infrastructure Campaign has been asking local, state, and federal policymakers to:

  • Expand equitable access to skills training offered through registered apprenticeship programs and workforce programs at community and technical colleges so that more people of color, women, and young people can access new jobs in the infrastructure field.
  • Invest in industry partnerships in the infrastructure field and support their capacity to engage in equity-advancing practices. Industry partnerships have the potential to expand access to quality infrastructure careers for women, people of color and others who, historically, have not had access to these careers. Since industry partnerships intentionally broker training, hiring, and advancement opportunities between workers and employers within a particular sector, they can be used to disrupt occupational segregation if they are equity focused.
  • Provide economic supports to make skills training and career transitions possible. Economic supports can fill resource gaps caused by structural racial and gender inequities and exacerbated by pandemic-related job loss. For instance, investments in affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare will be essential if we want women to be part of the 21st century infrastructure workforce. These economic supports are particularly important for workers who are entering an apprenticeship or a first job in the field and have not yet realized the full earnings potential of an infrastructure career.
  • Incentivize and support training, hiring, and career advancement of local residents. The IIJA is intended to invest in local communities – including those that have been under-resourced – so that everyone has access to rails and roads, clean water, high-speed internet, clean energy, and climate resilient infrastructure. We can bring even more benefit to local communities by incentivizing training, hiring, and career advancement of people who live in the communities where infrastructure projects are takin place for newly created infrastructure jobs.
  • Collect data and report on jobs outcomes of federal infrastructure spending with attention to race, gender, and geography. Collecting data allows us to track the progress of efforts toward building an inclusive infrastructure workforce, federal agencies can mandate data collection on who is trained and hired through federal infrastructure spending, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, geography, and other factors. When we have good data,we can use it to hold our policymakers accountable to an equitable infrastructure workforce.

What’s happening with these laws now?

The infrastructure law is currently in the second year of a five-year funding process. The law includes significant investments in physical infrastructure, expands the ways in which funding can be used for workforce development, prioritizes access to good infrastructure jobs for women, people of color, immigrants, and other populations in the infrastructure workforce, and makes hiring from local communities easier.

Similarly, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) makes investments in and provides tax credits for clean energy infrastructure including encouraging spending on related workforce and training initiatives. The IRA also includes incentives for private companies to use registered apprentices and pay a prevailing wage. The IRA was signed into law in August of 2022 which means that many programs created and amended by the law are still being rolled out.

Much of the funding available under both the bipartisan Infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act is subject to the Biden Administration’s Justice 40 Initiative. Justice 40 is intended to ensure that 40% of federal investments in climate change and clean energy flow to what they describe as “disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.”

Both the infrastructure law and the IRA include provisions that align closely with NSC goals. With the laws in place, most of our coalition’s focus this year will be on implementation by federal agencies and work at the state and local level where the money will be spent.

The administration has done a good job of ensuring that workforce is embedded in grant opportunities by prioritizing applications that include plans to provide training and economic supports and create opportunities for women, people of color, immigrants and other populations that historically haven’t had to access infrastructure jobs. Unfortunately, many state and local agencies that will receive federal infrastructure funds, (for example, transportation and public works agencies) do not have expertise in or strong connections to workforce development partners. This makes it all the more important for state and local workforce and community leaders to be at the table, informing infrastructure plans.

That’s why NSC is working with federal agency staff to push for resources and tools that can drive partnerships between workforce leaders and state and local agencies. For example, last year, NSC partnered with the Federal Highway Administration on a webinar highlighting workforce partners in the transportation infrastructure space, and we continue to work with federal agencies on initiatives that will lift up models for success.

We know that more can be done to help develop these connections on the ground – so NSC and BLU will continue to work in partnership with our state coalition partners to facilitate the connections needed for state-based organizations and agencies to fully leverage the opportunities within the infrastructure law.

Outlook in the States

This year, many SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU state affiliates will work to influence how states implement and spend infrastructure investments on the state level. This may include:

  • Expanding state apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs,
  • Allocating federal infrastructure or pre-existing state or federal funds to invest in industry partnerships in infrastructure fields,
  • Changing existing state policy levers to expand access to economic supports like childcare and transportation so that more residents can train for infrastructure careers,
  • Building incentivizes for training and hiring of local residents into state project procurement processes, and/or
  • Funding and developing systems that collect and report data disaggregated by race, gender or geography on the jobs created by federal infrastructure spending

NSC will support these efforts with a playbook designed to help develop new connections between state workforce advocates and the state agencies tasked with implementing the laws so that state agencies can draw on the workforce development expertise of our coalition, and so workforce advocates can shape state infrastructure investments and plans to include training.

One example of a SkillSPAN coalition already primed to influence the implementation of federal infrastructure investments at the state level is Wisconsin SkillSPAN led by WRTP/BIG STEP. SkillSPAN members in Wisconsin were tapped by the Governor’s office to serve as advocates for federal infrastructure funds that support apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Vice President Kamala Harris also visited WRTP/BIG STEP to tour the skills training facility and discuss the importance of direct use of federal workforce funds to support large-scale community-based infrastructure projects. WRTP/BIG STEP recently hosted a discussion on preparing WI’s workforce for clean energy economy and good environmental infrastructure jobs, including through pre-apprenticeship and other efforts to diversify the apprenticeship pipeline.


Outlook in Congress

Skills advocates and business leaders may have to play defense this year with Congress when it comes to funding workforce priorities, including some related to infrastructure. Some members of Congress are looking to cut budgets for non-defense related programs. Unfortunately, that may include a few workforce-related programs included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that were authorized but not funded. These programs combined are in the tens of millions of dollars compared to the billions that were funded when the bill was signed into law.

More significantly, annual funding for workforce programs, economic supports, and career and technical education may also face cuts. Advocates know that the workforce system is already unable to keep up with worker and business need and still significantly trails funding levels from 2001 even before adjusting for inflation. Any cuts to these programs would impede bipartisan efforts to build a more diverse infrastructure workforce which is why skills advocates’ voices are more important than ever.

While the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure law includes many opportunities for workforce programs, the legislation lacks dedicated funding for industry and sector partnerships. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is due to be reauthorized during the 118th Congress. That will be an opportunity to call for a dedicated program to support industry and sector partnerships that intentionally work to advance equity – rather than pulling resources from an already underfunded workforce system. And while all industry and sector partnerships would be included in this program, it would certainly benefit infrastructure partnerships. NSC expects to share our recommendations around WIOA reauthorization later this year, and we’ll be calling upon our network – workforce advocates and business leaders – to lend voices and case examples to help federal policymakers understand the importance of sector partnerships to provide inclusive, accessible, industry-specific training.

Our coalition will have the opportunity to impact upcoming legislation and implementation of infrastructure legislation at the 2023 Skills Summit. Register for the Summit to learn more about upcoming skills legislation and share your expertise with federal policymakers and their staff.

And, 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.