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On August 9, employers from the infrastructure and energy sectors met with key staff at the U.S Departments of Transportation, Commerce, and Energy to advocate for industry partnerships and data collection to support workforce development.
The employers are members of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships, and the effort was part of National Skills Coalition’s People Powered Infrastructure Campaign – a campaign urging lawmakers to invest in training the next generation of infrastructure workers – to fill the jobs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other legislation.
NSC and BLU were instrumental in advocating for the passage of a range of laws that will invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and the the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – it’s the one year anniversary of President Biden signing the act into law today.
NSC and BLU networks are now working to bring the on-the-ground expertise of our advocates and business leaders to inform the implementation of those laws by federal agencies in order to achieve a diverse, multi-generational infrastructure workforce.
Industry partnerships bring together local businesses, community colleges, training providers, community organizations, and unions and worker organizations to develop industry-specific workforce strategies and provide training that supports local and regional demand. They’re instrumental in supporting workers’ access to in-demand skills and businesses’ ability to inform and support the training that workers receive.
Employers brought their sector partnership success stories to the meetings – telling policymakers about how well-resourced sector partnerships lead to greater worker retention, wages, and stronger industry engagement with our public workforce and education systems. They also talked about the barriers they faced in creating sector partnerships, and how policymakers can help ensure that talent enters the infrastructure field. They urged policymakers to dedicate resources to develop and expand sector partnerships – including as a key tool to expand access to good jobs for underrepresented populations in the growing infrastructure sector.
“Meaningful sector partnerships require resources to make them happen – and most businesses simply don’t have the capacity to be constantly searching for funding,” said Jason Mann a Business Development Specialist at Howard Companies (an asphalt paving company located in Indianapolis, Indiana). “That’s why the opportunity to talk to policymakers about investments that support sector partnerships is so critical – it’s one way federal and state governments can be a real partner to business, build out the workforce and support critical sectors of the economy.”
Employers also urged policymakers to support data collection that helps business align their needs with future opportunities. Data collection and analysis is critical to understanding how federal resources are being used to support workforce development. For example, it’s helpful for businesses (and potential workers) to understand how many jobs will be created, what kind of training is being offered, and if the training provided and jobs created are benefiting underrepresented populations. Currently, businesses, workers, students, and the general public don’t have access to data that will tell them what future jobs will be, the demand for them, and what skills are needed to fill them.
In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – a law intended to address the deteriorating state of our nation’s infrastructure by bolstering the capacity of the infrastructure sector and equipping workers with the necessary skills, training, and resources to get jobs in the infrastructure sector. Along with key programs and pieces of legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, massive investments are already spurring projects and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges, expand broadband, upgrade public transit, utilities, and clean energy systems among other projects. 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.
If our country is serious about being competitive in a global economy and training the next generation of workers, as well as ensuring that federal 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 workers of color, women, and immigrants. These workers have long been underrepresented in quality careers in infrastructure fields and were also disproportionately working in industries impacted by the COVID-19 recession.
Furthermore, if we want a trained workforce capable of meeting the increased demands of infrastructure projects, state policymakers, advocates, unions, employers, training providers, community-based organizations, and community and technical colleges will need to work together to ensure that these resources are used wisely and equitably to build a diverse, multigenerational workforce trained to power our infrastructure for the next decade and beyond.