Job training needs for Biden’s infrastructure plan

Photo: AP/file

President Joe Biden’s anticipated $1.5 trillion infrastructure program would increase the number of jobs in the sector, and workforce training programs – especially short-term ones – would be crucial to help workers prepare for the bulk of those jobs, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The program, which the Biden administration is expected to announce soon, would save or create 15 million jobs over 10 years and increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11% to 14% of all U.S. jobs, focused among blue-collar positions, the report said.

Of the jobs created through the infrastructure program, 60% would require six months of training or less, and 40% would require more than six months of training, CEW said. Expanding Pell Grant eligibility to include short-term occupational training programs, as proposed in the recently reintroduced JOBS Act, could lead to significant increases in student enrollment and completion.

“Creating jobs is just the first step,” Anthony Carnevale, lead author on the report and CEW director, said in a release accompanying the report. “Without a jobs training program, we won’t be able to prepare workers to fill them.”

Focus on blue-collar jobs

The administration’s proposal would be far-reaching, from fixing and building new roads and bridges, the electric grid and water systems, broadband and more. The majority of the jobs (75%) would be for workers with no more than a high school diploma and some non-degree, short-term postsecondary training, CEW said. The remaining 25% of infrastructure jobs would require an associate degree or higher.

“Spending on infrastructure would at least temporarily reverse the long-time decline in blue-collar jobs accelerated by the demise of domestic manufacturing,” the report said. It noted that construction companies are already struggling to find skilled workers, with up to 330,000 construction jobs unfilled.

Infrastructure jobs for workers with no more than a high school diploma would focus in transportation and material moving occupations, which would be about 60% of all infrastructure jobs created or saved. Infrastructure jobs for workers with an associate degree or higher would concentrate in engineering and protective services, managerial, and business and financial operations occupations.

Apprenticeships could also play a role in workforce training for these jobs, the report said, noting that last year about 42% of apprenticeship programs were already training workers for infrastructure-related occupations. Although apprenticeships comprise a small fraction of the workforce (0.4%), the programs have grown in popularity as a workforce development option. In fact, new apprentices increased by 128% in the last decade, the center said.

Serving people of color, women

CEW said the new jobs would particularly help Black and Latino workers, who have been disproportionately affected in the economic wake of the pandemic. Since most of the new jobs would be blue-collar positions that require a high school diploma or less, they would most likely be filled by Black and Latino workers. The report added that 61% of Latino workers and 45% of Black workers have a high school diploma or less, compared with 34% of White workers.

However, continued education and training will be critical to blue-collar workers in this sector, CEW said. It noted that there would be a surge in jobs at the beginning of the program, but they would wane by the end of the 10-year plan.

“If these jobs are lost, we risk repeating the tragic shift out of blue-collar jobs that began in the 1980s when good blue-collar jobs that only required a high school education were eliminated by the deindustrializing effects of technology and offshoring,” the report said.

Most of the new jobs would likely go to men, who currently hold 90% of infrastructure jobs, the center said. Apprenticeships in infrastructure-related jobs also predominantly comprise men. Only 9% of active apprentices are women, CEW said.

To that extent, the federal government should ensure those new jobs are more available to women – who have been disproportionately impacted in the Covid-induced economic downturn – than they have in the past, the center said.

Short-term Pell would help some

The report said that expanding Pell Grant eligibility to short-term programs would help workers cover the training needed for many of the new infrastructure jobs. But a good number of them (4.9 million) would require less than one month of training, which is far less than the 150-hour threshold presented in the leading bill to add short-term Pell grants.

While several organizations support the idea – including the American Association of Community Colleges – some groups oppose the idea because of a “perceived difficulty in assessing the quality of the program,” the center said. Expanding the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act would likely be more practical, “but it would require a significant expansion of scope,” it added.

Lumina Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Joyce Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation funded the report.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.