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Job opportunities are likely to boom if Congress approves a pending infrastructure bill, but a National League of Cities report says the current workforce may not be able to meet the demand.
Congressional lawmakers are on the cusp of approving a landmark infrastructure bill with hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending. But hiring the workers needed for the projects that money will help to pay for could be difficult, according to a new report.
About 30% of existing infrastructure jobs are considered hard to fill and it takes longer to hire workers for these types of positions compared to other industries, researchers with the National League of Cities found.
“Investing in roads and bridges without investing in people risks undermining the critical spending on our country’s crumbling infrastructure,” Clarence Anthony, NLC executive director and CEO, said in a statement. “The workforce we currently have is not able to meet our country’s needs or ambitions.”
NLC researchers examined 6.2 million jobs postings made between January and April—10% of which were infrastructure related, according to the NLC report. Transportation and installation and repair jobs together accounted for 41% of the infrastructure-related jobs posted during that time. The median time it took to fill infrastructure jobs was 23 days, compared to 19 days for jobs in other fields. Architecture and management jobs in the infrastructure industry take even longer to hire for.
“In the current job market, infrastructure jobs take longer to fill than other jobs. This dynamic has huge implications for the success of the historic federal investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Christiana McFarland, NLC’s research director, during a panel discussion this week about the report’s findings.
McFarland said that when a position fills quickly, it generally indicates the workforce in that field has the skills needed to do the job.
The findings come as the U.S. House is scheduled to vote Monday on Senate-approved infrastructure legislation with about $550 billion in new spending. It remains uncertain whether disagreements among Democrats could tank the measure.
Overall labor shortages, retirements in infrastructure-related fields, and decreased investment in workforce training are all feeding into the hiring difficulties that NLC identified, according to the report.
About 60% of available infrastructure jobs require only six months of training or less, meaning there is ample opportunity for local leaders to work with employers and educators to design and offer new short-term training programs.
During the NLC panel discussion, San Antonio was highlighted as one city that has implemented a workforce development program that is closing the skills gap by training workers for in demand infrastructure jobs. The city’s ability to keep up with not only the economic recovery but also the drastic growth in Texas “is about ensuring we can build up and fortify our region’s infrastructure, and that of course is dependent upon whether we have the workforce to do it,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
Construction and building trades were prioritized in the city’s workforce training programs.
“We wanted to make sure they weren’t simply aspirational, but they were tied to the real economy and that the jobs being created were driving the actual training program slots,” Nirenberg said.
The report suggests several steps that city leaders can take to help create pathways for residents to work in infrastructure trades.
City leaders should prioritize in-demand occupations in their regions, and work with local businesses to help identify skills transferable from declining to growing industries, the NLC report said. They should also work to identify barriers that may prevent certain segments of the population from accessing training opportunities needed for infrastructure jobs, such as access to transportation, childcare or other factors.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.