Concern states might not have enough construction workers for Infrastructure Bill funding
Co-authored by Jessica Brown, Director of Partnerships, Americas
What State government leaders need to know and can do to ensure they have enough workers to bring infrastructure investment to life
The recently passed $1.2T infrastructure bill creates significant opportunities for state leaders to grow their construction and transportation industries and create a pathway to GDP growth in the coming years. The potential benefit of this infrastructure investment is massive - as long as state leaders and infrastructure industries have sufficient talent to reach this growing demand. Unfortunately, skills gaps abound - by some estimates, reaching a deficit of two million workers nationally by 2025.
“Do we have the workforce ready right now to take care of this? Absolutely not,"
says Beverly Scott, the vice chair of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
A recent Chamber of Commerce survey found that:
- 88 percent of construction contractors faced moderate to high difficulty finding skilled workers
- one-third of respondents had to decline work due to insufficient talent
In this environment, how might state leaders set themselves up for success? In particular, when most state leaders are unable to answer key questions about their workforce, including:
- What are the current hiring deficits for key infrastructure industries?
- How many new roles are we likely to need to fill the demand for growth once infrastructure funds are received?
- What’s my plan of attack for bridging the talent gap that currently exists?
In a recent conversation, Dr. Michael Kollo, Faethm’s Chief Economist, and Joseph W. Kane, a Fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, discussed some of the challenges and opportunities of building infrastructure in the 21st century.
There were three key themes that emerged from their discussion to help drive resolution to the questions above.
1. Data empowers strategic investments and ROI
State leaders require access to data that allows them to make evidence-based decisions.
Dr. Michael Kollo posits the use of systems thinking (one of the most relevant capabilities for the future of work) will differentiate those who build the right infrastructure from those who repeat the mistakes of the past.
“If I'm a state leader looking at the industries I have in my local economy, and I'm trying to take a holistic perspective, I will try to understand how the mining industry plays with the manufacturing or plays with all the support services industry. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence, but to really understand this little complex system called your local economy you need data and strategic thinking,” said Dr. Kollo.
2. Incomplete or misrepresented data on infrastructure workers leads to policy errors
When we think of infrastructure, we think of multiple sectors – transportation, water, energy, broadband, manufacturing, green infrastructure, among others – which in total represent about 17 million workers (11 percent of the US workforce). However, we don't often look at them as part of a distinct “infrastructure” sector.
As Kane explains, many infrastructure jobs aren't advertised online, which generates a bias in the datasets obtained from online job posting sites, since they have an over-representation and bias towards tech positions and white-collar roles.
Additionally, we think of all infrastructure jobs as physically intensive roles. However, that is not necessarily true, and this misconception causes some jobs to be under-represented. “In the headquarters of a utility, you have managers, customer service representatives, budget analysts, human resource staff. Infrastructure development helps create diverse types of jobs”, said Kane.
3. Workforce mobilization will be essential for State infrastructure
If you're a State in the US or a local county, how do you prepare to have 30 percent more people working in infrastructure? How do you mobilize talent to build?
Government leaders must have a talent mobilization plan, along with a clear understanding of their mission-critical occupations and their infrastructure needs. However, a successful workforce mobilization takes more than just planning and money, explains Kane. "It requires community support, childcare, transportation access, and training opportunities."
As part of his research, Kane has focused on studying the profile of the infrastructure workers in the United States. “There’s a silver tsunami; many are eligible for retirement or are already retiring. There's this gap in replacing the skilled infrastructure workers,” remarked Kane.
This might include evaluating the talent pipeline and developing a strategy to build skills through upskilling and reskilling. “More than half of all infrastructure workers only have a high school diploma or less, however they are skilled and have certifications, licenses, and other credentials,” Kane explained.
Will your State’s construction workforce be ready for infrastructure investment?
What is needed, then, is a rigorous, data-backed method to effectively forecast these workforce shifts in order to drive appropriate policy decisions. To design an effective mobilization strategy, government leaders must take advantage of predictive analytics and workforce economic modeling tools to understand who can be reskilled to work in infrastructure jobs, what type of training is necessary and how technology can make jobs safer and more productive.
Faethm’s workforce economics tool can provide access to this information, along with predictive analytics to support scenario planning and unearth how different policy approaches could lead to desired outcomes.
To learn more about Faethm’s workforce economics tool and how it might support your State through this time of change, we invite you to get in touch.
Contact person for State leaders
James Davie, VP Americas