To Improve Infrastructure, Washington Experts Turn to Workforce Development

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This week in Washington, policymakers, industry experts and city leaders have gathered to tell Congress and the Administration a crucial message: We must rebuild America’s infrastructure before it’s too late.

But that doesn’t just mean finding the necessary funds to fix physical infrastructure. Investing in America’s infrastructure future also means focusing on the workforce that will design, build and maintain these complex systems.

From fixing water main breaks and potholes in streets, to thinking about the future and the possibilities of smarter assets that weave broadband, sustainability and smart technology into the fabric of our communities, all infrastructure sectors require skilled individuals to maintain and optimize America’s infrastructure.

To kick off this week of advocacy, NLC hosted a briefing in our National City-County Leadership Center to highlight the workforce development needs from the perspective of workers, employers and the data which impacts the economic vitality of cities.

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We know that, as a country, we face a $2 trillion investment gap in our physical infrastructure. But we also heard loud and clear that we also face a true deficit in our job pipeline — in the sectors that most crucially support these infrastructure needs.

The panel, moderated by NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony, featured NLC President Mayor Mark Stodola, Amy Blair of the Aspen Institute, David Mallino of the Laborers International Union of North America, Danial Villao of the U.S. Department of Labor and Dave Young of Boeing. Each brought a different perspective to the conversation, underscoring the point that there is a need to invest in the areas of workforce development that will ensure that our country can remain competitive.

Their key priorities included:

  • Ensuring the passage of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and a continued investment in this educational pathway, which is not a traditional four-year college path but leads to good-paying jobs with strong career paths.
  • Supporting and scaling pathways to apprenticeships that bridge the skills gap and provide a pathway to learning and employment, particularly for a workforce that employers often have a hard time tapping into.
  • Building on the foundations of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and local workforce boards, to ensure that we are connecting new training and programs that are connected to what the data tells us in terms of employer need and sustainability.
  • Ensuring that we have proper work supports, including access to transportation, affordable child care and leave policies, that enable our residents to access and maintain these careers while also balancing the needs of their families.

Congress has pieces of workforce legislation that begin to make these connections, but it is important for city leaders to continue to amplify the message of the importance of investing in a pipeline of workers, starting at the earliest ages in K-12 education.

Meanwhile, city leaders must keep asking the big questions about workforce development: How are our children learning about where their safe drinking water comes from, how wastewater systems work and what it takes to ensure that they have proper transit options that get them to school, daycare and church?

By spreading understanding that these careers exist and seeing that there is a future for them in these sectors, we will ensure that the future is bright both for the worker but also for the community as a whole.

To learn more about the panel, read this article published in Route 50 today and get NLC’s latest publication on Workforce Development Strategies to Support Local Economies.

About the Author: Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.