Brookings Report Finds 3 Million Infrastructure Jobs Opening Up Over Next Decade, Workforce Development Programs Essential – CityLab
With millions of jobs in transportation, water, and energy opening up over the next decade, workforce development programs are essential, a new report finds.
In Flint, Michigan—which has become America’s poster city for aging infrastructure—the water still remains unsafe to drink, and only a handful of lead service lines have been replaced. This is a double-decker crisis: The longer Flint goes without water, the more distant its hopes of economic recovery become.
Harold Harrington, an official with the UA Local 370 plumbers’ union, believes he has a solution to both problems. If enough young people in Flint learn plumbing through the union’s apprenticeship program, he believes pipe replacement and water infrastructure projects can be sustained for decades to come. “We’d love to train them in a trade,” he told CityLab earlier this year. “Then they can have a career. We don’t just want to hand them a shovel and say ‘there.’”
A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests the U.S. as a whole could benefit from Harrington’s way of thinking. As poverty and economic inequality continue to rise, there’s opportunity in infrastructure, with some 3 million jobs opening up across the U.S. over the next decade due to an aging workforce and job turnover. Local governments in particular should follow Harrington’s lead, the report suggests, to create the workforce development programs necessary to fill those blue-collar jobs.
And though wages for these jobs are often well above national averages, roughly two-thirds of these jobs only require a high school diploma or less for entry. They do, however, require special knowledge and tools. Based on 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, roughly 12 million infrastructure workers need certain skills that can’t necessarily be learned in traditional education settings. For example, 92 percent of those workers required “above-average” levels of knowledge in transportation, and 71 percent needed to know as much about public safety and security. (For comparison, roughly one-third required above-average levels of building and construction knowledge.) With the exception of engineering jobs, where having a specialized degree is often essential, most successful infrastructure work hinges on apprenticeships, internships, and on-the-job training.