Labor shortage remains thorn in the side of Biden's plan

'We have got to make sure that we have the workforce to actually get it done'

Labor shortage remains thorn in the side of Biden's plan

The U.S. government’s commitment to infrastructure development is being stymied by the ongoing labor shortage.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration opened a call for applications through a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the competitive Bridge Investment Program established by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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“With resources from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re thrilled to begin accepting applications for one of the most significant investments in our bridges in decades, fixing everything from America’s most economically significant bridges to smaller bridges that mean everything to a local community,” said Pete Buttigieg, U.S. transportation secretary, on June 10.

“When these bridges are repaired, the American people will benefit from greater safety, lower shipping costs for consumers and maintenance costs for drivers, faster movement of goods across our supply chains, fuel savings, and precious time being returned to their day.”

The Bridge Investment Program provides an additional $12.5 billion in funding to the more than $27 billion provided to states by the Bridge Formula Program announced earlier this year.

The program is a competitive, discretionary program that focuses on the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of existing bridges across the country to reduce the overall number of bridges either in poor condition or in fair condition at risk of declining into poor condition.

But the ongoing labor shortage appears to be posing a challenge to the program.

“A lot of my lifetime, the big constraint on infrastructure work has been just a lack of funding and a failure to invest,” said Buttigieg in a report from Global Circulate. “We got the funding. Now we have got to make sure that we have the raw materials, the technical capacity and the workforce to actually get it done.”

In April, trade, transportation and utilities had 1.96 million jobs unfilled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry also had 979,000 quit that month, the highest among all industries in the U.S.

This is forcing companies to adjust. Central Florida Transport, one of the state’s largest aggregate haulers, for example, created a full-time driver advocate position to help its truck drivers with tasks that are tough to do during a busy workday, such as scheduling healthcare appointments or finding a loan broker. “We wanted to do whatever possible to help solve their problems because we can’t afford to lose any drivers,” said Myron Bowlin, the company’s vice president, according to the report from Global Circulate.

“The severity of the labor shortage means you’re paying workers more and your construction schedules are longer, both of which are big drivers in overall cost,” said Brian Turmail, the Associated General Contractors of America’s vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives.

To help address the problem, the U.S. government kicked off a summer-long Talent Pipeline Challenge, a call to action for employers, education and training providers, states, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and philanthropic organizations to make “tangible commitments that support equitable workforce development in three critical infrastructure sectors: Broadband, Construction, and “Electrification” (EV Charging Infrastructure and Battery Manufacturing).”

The challenge encourages employers to partner with and hire skilled workers from at least one training provider in each region in which the employer has operations. It also calls on training providers to partner with employers to create or bring to scale skills training programs, coupled with wraparound services like transportation assistance and child care, that will prepare workers for in-demand jobs.

Nearly 70 million Americans quit their job over the past year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career advancement is one of the things potential employees care about the most, according to Steve McIntosh, CEO of CareerPoint.

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