Historically, construction jobs pay well, and workers can have the satisfaction of building something lasting. The $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in November 2021 will reportedly add an average of 1.5 million jobs a year for ten years according to a White House fact sheet.
To fill those jobs, more workers will need to be attracted to and added to the construction industry. To achieve that, workforce development is needed to take advantage of the opportunity presented by IIJA. In particular, more people are needed in the skilled trades.
As reported by ConstructionDive in May 2022, the creation of new infrastructure construction jobs in the US over that ten-year span will be varied and may not necessarily involve the dusty, sweaty, grueling jobs we envision when we think “construction.” Jobs could include technology, office support, architecture, equipment operators, planners, green energy, transportation, engineering, and many others.
One of the things needed to attract people to skilled construction trades is training. Teaching, guidance and hands-on experience can nurture interest in careers in the industry and equip people to enter a trade ready to be productive. A logical place to begin this development is in high schools – reviving wood shop and metal shop classes, for instance. In addition, on-the-job training and mentorship can be utilized in the private sector. Another thing that’s needed is focused efforts on a company culture that encourages careers in skilled trades. People need a sense of accomplishment, and they want to feel like their contribution is important.
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According to an infrastructure implementation task force report, about 4,300 projects around the country have been announced so far since the IIJA passed. Still, it may be 2023 or later before we can actually see changes on the ground. Progress may be tempered by supply chain issues and the distressingly high cost of construction materials.
The projects that IIJA was intended to fund include:
- Broadband communication and high-speed internet
- Drinking water systems and clean water
- Electric vehicle charging
- Freight and passenger rail
- Highway safety and research
- Legacy pollution cleanup
- Low-carbon school buses and ferry systems
- Park and street grid planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction
- Ports, levees, waterways, and shore protection
- Power, grid and clean energy
- Public mass transit in urbanized areas
- Reauthorization of existing transportation programs
- Resiliency after natural disasters, plus infrastructure cybersecurity
- Roads, bridges and major projects
- Wastewater systems
A Construction Dive “Industry Pulse” report, updated in June 2022, indicates construction starts are gradually increasing, and spending is continuing an upward trend. The report also indicates that, while high pay attracts workers, the gap between available construction jobs and employment is still widening.
Optimistically, education, training, apprenticeships, and hands-on experience in the skilled construction trades will equip the US workforce to build all the projects that were envisioned in the IIJA.