Connecting state and local government leaders
Projects can't get built without the right workers, but a National League of Cities analysis shows how hiring for infrastructure jobs can be time consuming compared to other fields. NLC also offers tips for how governments can help to ease the problem.
States and localities are flush with funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, but finding people to fill jobs to build critical infrastructure projects is proving to be a great challenge, according to the National League of Cities. The organization said in a new report that localities are ready to address their communities’ critical needs.
“We know that we can’t build and maintain these assets without people,” the organization said in its report.
Infrastructure jobs are even harder to fill than jobs in other industries, according to the report. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on our local economies, our nation’s infrastructure businesses were challenged to find the skilled labor needed,” the report said.
Nationally, the median number of days it takes to fill an infrastructure job is 23, compared to 19 days to fill a job not related to infrastructure, according to the report. Thirty percent of infrastructure jobs are considered “hard to fill,” meaning they remain vacant longer than expected. Meanwhile, 24% of jobs outside of infrastructure are hard to fill.
Communities With Lots of Unfilled Jobs
Some localities are seeing significantly longer stretches of unfilled roles, according to a report from the National League of Cities. For instance, in parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, Maryland, the median number of days it takes to fill an infrastructure job is 60—the most in the nation. For other jobs, that figure is 25.6 days.
Here are the other nine communities in the top 10 nationwide that are really struggling to fill infrastructure job vacancies:
- In the western half of San Antonio and part of Bexar County in Texas, it takes a median of 56.9 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 41.8 days to fill other jobs.
- From eastern Detroit to Farmington Hills in Michigan, it takes 56.5 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 13.3 days to fill others.
- In parts of New York City and the surrounding area, it takes 53.8 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 35.7 days to fill others.
- In parts of Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland, it takes a median of 41.6 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 30.5 days to fill other jobs.
- In Durham, Orange, Granville and Franklin counties in North Carolina, as well as portions of Chatham County, it takes 40.8 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 31.5 days to fill others.
- In many parts of Atlanta’s eastern suburbs, it takes 40.7 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 14.2 days to fill others.
- In northern Ohio, it takes 40.7 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 19 days to fill others.
- In portions of Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties in California, it takes 36.9 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 27.1 days to fill others.
- In parts of Philadelphia and the surrounding area, it takes a median of 38.6 days to fill infrastructure jobs, compared to 36.7 days to fill other jobs.
To see how all localities stack up, click here.
Which Are the Hardest to Jobs to Fill?
Within the infrastructure industry, management jobs—which include construction managers and quality control systems, and have a median hourly wage of $52.77 an hour—take the longest to fill, the report said. Those roles take about 29 days to fill, and 32% of those roles take more than 45 days to fill.
Lower-paid roles, including office administration and material transportation, typically take less time to fill, about 17 and 18 days, respectively.
Why Are Infrastructure Jobs So Difficult to Fill?
There are several factors contributing to the recruitment challenges, including a lack of clear pathways into the industry, and many skilled and semi-skilled workers retiring, the report said.
Over many years, disinvestment from education programs has made pathways to the industry more difficult. The federal government has invested less in career and technical education in middle and high schools, and employers have been spending less on workforce preparation, the report said.
Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic may have played a role in shaping the appeal of infrastructure jobs. For example, perspectives on work have shifted, as people see that infrastructure jobs do not always offer the desired flexibility that other in-demand careers do, like the opportunity to telework. The pandemic’s disruptions to child care could also be a factor, the report said.
How to Address the Challenges
There are systemic issues that bar people from working in infrastructure and other industries, the report noted, including logistical challenges like transportation, child care and housing.
There are additional issues as well that municipalities can address to help fill vacancies in infrastructure, according to the NLC. They include:
- Bringing together employers and education institutions to tailor and create training opportunities to suit those who are disconnected from opportunities like internships, apprenticeships and city-sponsored youth-employment programs in summer. Creating pathways needn’t be an insurmountable challenge, as 60% of infrastructure jobs require six months or fewer of training, the report said.
- Leveraging labor and industry statistics to show people which industries are in decline and which are growing, and how skills can be transferred to meet new opportunities.
- Considering candidates with nontraditional experience and ensuring there are training opportunities for those seeking employment. This is something both businesses and governments can do.
“Addressing infrastructure workforce challenges will require policy makers at all levels to encourage workforce boards, schools, colleges and universities to proactively engage their local employers to design programs that meet local labor market needs,” the report said.
To read the full report, click here.
Molly Bolan is an assistant editor for Route Fifty.