Biden infrastructure plan: shortage of skilled workers poses challenge

WASHINGTON – The infrastructure bill President Biden hopes to pass Congress is supposed to create jobs and spur projects for companies l...


WASHINGTON – The infrastructure bill President Biden hopes to pass Congress is supposed to create jobs and spur projects for companies like Anchor Construction, which specializes in repairing aging bridges and roads in the nation’s capital.

But with aging baby boomers and not enough young people to replace them, John M. Irvine, senior vice president at Anchor, worries there aren’t enough workers to hire for all of these new projects.

“I would be surprised if there was a company saying they were ready for this,” said Irvine, whose company hires a dozen skilled workers, pipe layers and concrete finishers. If the bill passes Congress, he said, the company will likely have to double the amount it hires.

“We will have to recruit staff,” Irvine said. “And no, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill these jobs.”

Mr. Biden greeted the A trillion dollar infrastructure bill as a way to create millions of jobs, but as the country faces a serious shortage of skilled workers, researchers and economists say companies may struggle to fill all of these positions.

The bill could generate new jobs in sectors essential to the functioning of the country’s public works systems, such as construction, transport and energy. S&P Global Ratings estimated the bill would increase productivity and economic growth, adding $ 1.4 trillion to the US economy over eight years. But if there is not enough workforce to meet demand, efforts to strengthen the country’s highways, bridges and public transport could be delayed.

“Do we have the workforce ready now to take care of this?” Absolutely not, ”said Beverly Scott, vice-chair of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council.

A recent United States Chamber of Commerce Survey found that 88 percent of commercial construction contractors reported moderate to high levels of difficulty finding skilled workers, and more than a third had to turn down work due to labor shortages. The industry could face a shortage of at least two million workers by 2025, according to an estimate from Construction Industry Resources, a Kentucky data company.

The pandemic has exacerbated labor shortages as sectors like construction experience a boom in house projects with more people telecommuting and moving to the suburbs. Subcontractors also faced a shortage of supplies as prices skyrocketed for products such as wood and steel.

Construction jobs have grown rapidly after the sector lost more than a million jobs at the start of the pandemic. According to an analysis by Associated Builders and Contractors, construction job openings have increased 12% from pre-pandemic levels. But the sector is still down by around 232,000 jobs compared to February 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The problem underscores a continuing challenge for the skilled trades. Not enough young people enter the sectors, a concern for companies because seniors retire from construction, carpentry and plumbing work. And while many skilled trades positions have competitive salaries and lower educational barriers to entry, younger generations tend to view a four-year college degree as the default route to success.

Infrastructure workers tend to be older than average, raising concerns about workers retiring and leaving hard-to-fill positions behind. The median age of construction and building inspectors, for example, at 53, against 42.5 for all workers nationwide. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, only 10 percent of infrastructure workers are under 25, while 13 percent of all American workers fall into this age group.

“The challenge is how are we going to replace – not just grow, but replace – many workers who retire or quit their jobs? Said Joseph W. Kane, fellow of the Brookings Institution. “A lot of people, especially younger people, don’t even know these jobs exist. “

Community colleges, which offer a variety of vocational training programs, suffered a sharp drop in registrations. A recent estimate from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that community colleges were the hardest hit among all colleges, with enrollment down 9.5% this spring. More than 65 percent of the total undergraduate enrollment losses this spring occurred at community colleges, according to the report.

Nicholas Kadavy, a third-generation mason who owns Nebraska Masonry in Lincoln, Neb., Has seen his workload triple since April. He said his company had already planned work until June 2022.

He wants to hire more qualified masons to complete the projects sooner, but he can’t find enough people to fill the dozen positions he’s opened, even though he’s willing to pay up to $ 50 for the job. hour – double what it offered before the pandemic. He checks his emails daily, waiting for more applications to arrive.

“My biggest challenge is finding guys who want to work,” Kadavy said.

Even when he hears from candidates, Kadavy said, he is unable to hire many because they are not qualified enough. He was already seeing a shortage of skilled masons before the pandemic, he said, and he worries that the craft is “dying” because new generations do not pursue the field.

The country’s transit systems would receive $ 39 billion under the infrastructure bill, allowing agencies to expand service and upgrade decades-old infrastructure. But transit agencies are facing their own labor shortage, facing a shortage of bus drivers, metro operators and maintenance technicians.

Metro Transit in Minneapolis is trying to hire about 100 bus drivers by the end of the year, said Brian Funk, the agency’s acting chief operating officer. The agency originally planned to hire 70 workers by the end of June, but it only hit about half of that target.

While he is optimistic that the agency will be able to fill the remaining positions after stepping up efforts to promote openings, he said he is still wary of some workers choosing to leave.

“We know that with each passing day, it is possible that someone else is considering retirement or other employment,” Mr. Funk said.

Some are optimistic that policymakers will be able to scale up workforce development programs to meet the demand that the infrastructure bill would create. According to economists, the projects could take several months to start, giving the country time to train workers who are not yet qualified.

“These problems are not insurmountable,” said Nicole Smith, chief economist at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Not having a sufficiently trained workforce is a problem that can be solved. “

But others fear the bill will not do enough to attract more people to infrastructure, especially historically under-represented groups like women and people of color. Although Mr. Biden initially proposed a $ 100 billion investment in workforce development, this funding was omitted in the latest version of the bipartite infrastructure bill. The funding would have invested in vocational training for those formerly incarcerated and created millions of registered apprenticeships, among others.

Last week, the National Skills Coalition and over 500 other organizations sent a letter to the leadership of Congress calling on it to include the funding in a separate reconciliation bill.

“President Biden has promised that economic recovery will be based on fairness,” said Andy Van Kleunen, chief executive of the National Skills Coalition. “Workforce training must be part of this response. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden infrastructure plan: shortage of skilled workers poses challenge
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