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A Diversified Workforce Will be the Answer to the Labor Shortage

Infrastructure bill means more opportunity and possibly short-staffed jobsites

As President Biden's infrastructure plan takes shape (which estimates $1 trillion and 2 million new jobs in the pipeline) an effort to diversify the workforce will be necessary to fill those jobs in a time of labor shortages. The construction industry has already been feeling the crunch of a dearth of manpower during the pandemic. Coupled with the supply chain issues plaguing the industry, the infusion of more jobs will create a new level of strain on an industry already stretched thin.

In July of this year, there were 321,000 un-filled jobs. That was during a time of abbreviated work flow and extended schedules due to the aforementioned supply chain issues. Once the supply chain stabilizes and infrastructure jobs ramp up, demand for workers will reach critical levels. If the infrastructure bill passes and the labor issue is not reconciled, it is estimated that by 2025, the construction industry could be short between 1.5 to 2 million workers.

Data from the Department of Labor provides the answers for moving forward. Statistics show that 9 out of 10 construction workers are male and 1 in 17 are African American. "Despite efforts in recent decades to make the industry more inclusive, and some progress, a long history of exclusionary hiring practices and informal recruitment networks has blocked some groups from opportunities." writes Patrick Sisson of the New York Times.

The labor shortage is a prime opportunity to recruit from those communities that have been overlooked in the past. Also, by looking to new recruitment pools, the industry will be helping the communities themselves by potentially finding homegrown labor that will create community wealth.

There are programs already at work that will find new importance in the face of what is to come. Trade unions have already been hard at work trying to balance the inequities found in the industry. Programs like the Women Build Nevada Initiative and Rochester, NY's Multi-craft Apprenticeship Preparation Program (MAPP) are examples of this kind of outreach.

Kareem Berry, executive director of MAPP, says of his program, “Being an African American man who’s gone through the apprenticeship to become a journeyman wireman, I understand the challenges other African Americans will face while navigating their journey of apprenticeship. Further, sitting at the Rochester Building Trades Council, we are able to be the voice of the inner city and advocate for the equality the unions tout for the residents where the work is actually taking place.”

A Mission Statement on the Nevada Building Trade's page says of the Women Build Nevada Initiative, "Through outreach, events, school tours, community partnerships, active recruiting, leadership training, and a tradeswomen mentoring and support network, the initiative will tackle the shortage of women in the construction workforce by increasing awareness that the skilled trades are a golden ticket to a creative and satisfying career—with lifelong learning opportunities, and financial independence that guarantees women equal pay at all stages of their careers."

Union apprenticeship programs are models for how to increase inclusion but also increasingly imperative in the face of what's to come if the infrastructure plan moves forward. The apprenticeship model offers competitive pay and a solution to the impending cross section of too many jobs and not enough workers. The race is on to fulfill the need while changing the face of the industry to better reflect the demographics of the communities the infrastructure bill will impact the most.

Read more at The Builders Daily

Read more at The New York Times

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