Do We Have the Skills to Build $1-trillion in Infrastructure?

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If the debated $1-trillion infrastructure legislation passes through Congress, many people are wondering whether the US construction industry has the skilled labor to see the intended projects come to fruition. In a New York Times (NYT) article published this week, companies were queried about that possibility. The responses, while possibly a surprise to people who are not involved in the construction industry, are certainly nothing new to the construction trades. The collective attitude in the industry is that the workforce as it stands today is not capable of producing that much construction.

The intent of the proposed legislation is to create millions of jobs and spur infrastructure projects like bridges, roads and water projects. New construction jobs have been promised for public works systems, transportation and energy.

While construction companies know they need to add staff if/when the bill passes, most acknowledge that there are not enough skilled workers available to fill the positions. Additionally, these can be positions that are difficult to fill and can command premium hourly rates.

There is already a labor shortage in the construction industry. One of the challenges is that the baby-boomer generation is reaching retirement age, and as they leave the workforce, there are not enough younger workers entering to replace them. It’s a struggle to not only fill the vacancies but to grow the workforce.

In 2018, the Association of General Contractors reported that 80% of contractors were having trouble finding qualified craft workers to hire. About one-third of such businesses have even had to turn down work because of that issue. The shortage, which is currently estimated at around two million workers, was already expected to extend to 2025 without the added pressure of new infrastructure projects.

The NYT article pointed out that, compared to all workers nationwide, “Infrastructure workers tend to be older than average,” by as much as ten years. Tellingly, only about a tenth of infrastructure workers are under the age of 25. In fact, some business owners report they have trouble finding people who want to work.

A perennial challenge for the skilled trades: not enough young people have been entering the workforce. That has been going on since the plans of high school students shifted away from getting a job right after graduation and toward pursuing a four-year college degree. This attitude persists, even though skilled trades provide competitive wages and a shorter education gradient. Some students may not even be counseled on the types of careers available in the trades.

The NYT article reports that skills like masonry may even be in danger of waning because of the lack of interest by the emerging workforce. In order to counteract that trend, investments are needed in job training and apprenticeships.

Not only are workforce development programs needed to build the skilled labor force, more could be done to draw people into infrastructure fields, especially underrepresented groups, to increase the size of the potential hiring pool.

Until labor challenges begin to turn around, adopting tools like eVolve MEP is a way for your BIM-centered company to offset the effects of the skilled labor shortage. Contact the experts of eVolve MEP and request a demo today.

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