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Investing in people to power our infrastructure

Over the next few years, the federal government will invest nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure projects to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges, expand broadband, support the transition to clean energy, modernize water, transit and utility systems; and invest in more climate-responsive and resilient infrastructure. This historic bipartisan investment in infrastructure signed into law late last year is expected to create millions of well-paying jobs over the next decade, promising a return to the labor market for a number of people who have lost their jobs. work during the COVID-19 recession. Keeping that promise, however, will require another bipartisan federal investment in people now so we can create an inclusive infrastructure workforce for the 21st century.

Investing in people means investing in skills training, economic supports and local employment strategies so that more workers can transition into infrastructure careers. It also means investing in those most affected by the pandemic recession and longstanding structural inequalities so that everyone can benefit from newly created infrastructure jobs. As society transforms and the global impacts of climate change increase, the demand for more resilient, sustainable and equitable infrastructure is greater than ever. It will take a diverse and multi-generational workforce to answer the call to action.

Workers of color, immigrants and women suffered disproportionate job losses during the pandemic because they were overrepresented in the industries hardest hit by economic shutdowns. These same workers have historically been excluded from quality careers in infrastructure fields. If creating jobs in infrastructure is to contribute to a fairer economy, we need investments in the workforce that disrupt these patterns of occupational segregation and chart a different path to a more inclusive future.

In addition to benefiting workers, new investments in the workforce can benefit infrastructure-related businesses by ensuring there are enough trained workers to complete a decade of projects. Even before the pandemic, employers in fields ranging from construction to utilities faced the challenges of an aging and retiring workforce. Federal investment in infrastructure will only increase the demand for skilled workers.

Investments in the workforce can also benefit local communities that are in desperate need of infrastructure improvements by developing a local workforce that has the capacity to build a clean energy future, fix roads, bridges and public transport, manage safer, cleaner and more resilient water systems, expand broadband, consolidate the electricity grid and restore ports and airports.

So what can Congress and the Biden administration do to invest in people and create an inclusive infrastructure workforce for the 21st century?

For starters, they can advance key bipartisan labor proposals ready to move this Congress. These include investments that would significantly expand access to skills training and economic supports for workers.

The proposed investments in recorded learning would help people take up infrastructure careers. These investments could promote equity in areas of infrastructure if they include pre-apprenticeship programs designed to provide pathways for underrepresented workers and if they help apprenticeship programs invest in diverse workplace mentors. work that promotes inclusion.

Similarly, the proposed investments in the vocational training of workers before and after hiring could ensure that people can train not only for a first job, but also for a sustainable career in infrastructure. Training pathways are key to creating opportunities for women and people of color, who are concentrated in entry-level roles in public services and transportation, to advance in their careers.

Industry partnerships, which bring together local businesses, labor unions and organizations, community colleges, training providers and community organizations, are a proven model for helping workers enter and progress in a local industry and for help local businesses support and maintain an inclusive talent ecosystem. Investments in these partnerships would build the capacity of talent pools that support the training, hiring and career advancement of local workers over the long term.

Economic supports for workers, such as childcare and transportation assistance, will also be key to making job training and career transitions possible for those who have been impacted financially by the pandemic and are looking to enter the workforce. infrastructure workforce. Economic supports can also fill resource gaps caused by racial and gender income disparities, which have been exacerbated by pandemic-related job loss.

Congress can also act now to make Pell Grants available to eligible students enrolled in high-quality, short-term education and training programs, and to improve data on postsecondary enrollment and outcomes. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce estimates that 60% of the jobs created by the federal infrastructure bill will require six months of training or less. Expanding eligibility for Pell grants for short-term education and training programs will be important to equitably build the infrastructure workforce, as Black and Latino students incur disproportionate student debt due to of the racial wealth gap. Better data on college access, costs and outcomes can also help workers make choices about training options and support efforts to address chronic equity gaps. Congress can act on both of these issues by including the JOBS Act and the College Transparency Act in a bipartisan innovation act.

While investing in people-powered infrastructure will compel Congress to act, the Biden administration can also take steps now to foster an inclusive workforce in infrastructure through the implementation of the Workforce Act. investment and employment in infrastructure. Agencies that oversee infrastructure projects can work closely with ministries of education and labor to maximize training opportunities for infrastructure workers. Federal agencies can also encourage state and local governments to prioritize local residents in training and employment plans for federally funded projects. To track the progress of these efforts, the federal government can measure the employment outcomes of its infrastructure projects by taking into account race, gender and geography.

A National Skills Coalition poll shows that 89% of voters want an infrastructure plan to be paired with investments in training so local residents can access those jobs. The American people are okay with people-powered infrastructure. Our political leaders must be too in order to build the inclusive workforce that the infrastructure systems of the 21st century will demand.

Brooke DeRenzis is the Director of Strategy at the National Skills Coalition and Victoria Johnson is the Practice Leader for Social Value/Equity for the Americas at Jacobs Global Strategic Consulting.

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