How the BUILDS Act can Ease America’s Infrastructure Labor Shortage

By Megan Evans, May 28, 2024

As historic investments from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act continue to roll out to states, localities, and individual projects, it’s becoming even more clear that achieving our nation’s infrastructure commitments hinges on building the infrastructure workforce.

An infrastructure workforce challenge

NSC (National Skills Coalition) recently commissioned a report with BlueGreen Alliance from researchers at Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The report, Unprecedented Opportunity: Meeting the Workforce Demands of New Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Investments, identifies an anticipated labor shortage of 1.1 million workers concentrated in construction. This shortage highlights the need to connect workers to training and supports that will provide access to the skills needed to access these good jobs which, on average, pay more than 10% above the U.S. median hourly wage.

The BUILDS Act: A Key Component of the Solution

The BUILDS Act which was recently reintroduced in the Senate by Senator Kaine (D-VA) after previous reintroduction in the House last fall by Representatives Bonamici (D-OR) and GT Thompson (R-PA) could help support industry needs and access to workforce training to address the anticipated labor shortage in infrastructure.

The bipartisan legislation (which stands for “Building U.S Infrastructure by Leveraging Demand for Skills”) would establish a grant program to support industry and sector partnerships and workforce development efforts related to infrastructure. The grants could be used to establish and convene sector partnerships, navigate Registered Apprenticeship registration, connect with education partners, and design curriculum. The grants would also support workers both before and during employment by providing training, attire, tools, services like childcare and transportation meant to support workers during their first six months of employment. Some supports would last more than a year to ensure participants are able to remain in and complete programs.

At NSC, we often analyze the BUILDS Act through the lens of our People Powered Infrastructure Campaign because it focuses on the infrastructure space, it has broad implications for our work. Establishing and convening industry and sector partnerships, worker training, and supports are components of many of NSC’s legislative recommendations to Congress. These partnerships have a proven track record of identifying and meeting workforce needs across various industries.

Legislative Prospects and Advocacy

While BUILDS is unlikely to pass as a standalone bill, there is hope that it will be incorporated into the upcoming reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), currently being negotiated in the Senate.

During the 2024 Skills Summit, NSC partners met with lawmakers to highlight the critical need to invest in partnerships and supportive services to meet our nation’s workforce needs and highlighted the BUILDS act as part of that advocacy. NSC staff will continue these conversations to ensure that WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) reauthorization meets the needs of workers and employers alike.