Job Creation a Winner Under Infrastructure Plan, But Who Will Do the Work?

According to an analysis by S&P Global, the infrastructure bill could add more than 880,000 jobs by 2030, but with 88% of contractors already struggling to find labor to do the jobs they have, who will fill these roles?

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According to a report by S&P global, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) will create close to 1 million new jobs over the next decade. The analysis says that employment would be boosted by more than 880,000, with many middle-class jobs, including in construction, engineering and accounting. 

If it becomes law, the bipartisan, Senate-approved infrastructure bill will also increase per capita personal income in 2030 by about $100 per person, or roughly 10.5%, according to the S&P study. With fatter paychecks and more jobs, households are projected to spend an additional $677 billion over the eight-year period. 

According to Fox Business, the infrastructure bill, which includes $550 billion in new funding, could boost productivity in the long run, raising GDP – the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country – by 2.1% on an annual basis over the next eight years. The plan is estimated to add about $1.4 trillion to the economy over the next eight years.

More Jobs But No Workers

President Biden has been quoted as saying the bill will create millions of good union jobs all across the country in cities, small towns, rural and Tribal communities and has said that 90% of the jobs created will not require a college degree. 

The problem is, who will do the work?

In the construction industry alone, second quarter data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction showed that 88% of contractors are having difficulty finding workers, forcing them to pull back on projects. Of those who reported difficulty finding skilled labor, 35% have turned down work because of skilled labor shortages. If we don’t have the workers, how can we move these projects forward?

Earlier this year, President Biden proposed the American Jobs Plan which included $100 billion to fund priorities like expanding registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, particularly for women and people of color, wraparound support for dislocated workers, sector-based training programs focused on target industries and job training for justice-involved individuals. Unfortunately, the bipartisan agreement left this funding out.

Without an investment in workforce development and policy, employers will struggle to find the qualified workers needed to fill infrastructure, clean energy and other in-demand jobs now and in the coming years. 

An analysis by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce finds that in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, more than half of the jobs created will require some form of short-term training, and the remainder will require six months to two years of training. While many workers already have the skills to do these jobs, they may still lack the credentials to prove it– and employers and the workforce system lack the ability to identify these workers at scale.

There is also an opportunity to recruit displaced workers to the construction industry. Many of the jobs that have been lost as a result of the pandemic are not coming back. The problem is that millions of workers will need to develop their skills and the IIJA plan as it stands misses the opportunity to help.

Is Technology The Only Solution?

Projects small and large are experiencing delays as the nation is short about a quarter-million workers. Add to that a pandemic, dramatic increases in the cost of supplies, and supply chain delays and you have an industry on shaky ground. 

Associated Builders and Contractors predicts the shortage will grow to one million workers in two years.

"Contractors should think about labor and their relationship with technology differently," Josh Weiss COO/CDO, Hexagon Geosystems says. "Rather than focus on the labor they want and don’t have, focus on the available tools and how to use them to grow the productivity of existing talent. Technology optimizes workflows so less time-intensive work, or rework, is needed, increasing the capability of the existing workforce. In other words, technology is not killing jobs; it’s "skilling" jobs. Technology allows companies to look at projects in a new way."

In fact, McKinsey found that if construction productivity could at least catch up to the economy as a whole, the sector's value would increase by an estimated $1.6 trillion — the equivalent to around half of the world's annual infrastructure needs.

"Today the pandemic has created a significant shift for construction firms and tech adoption is the only way forward to embrace the 'next normal,'" Ed Williams  senior team lead at ProjectPro says. "To eliminate inefficient processes that plague the industry’s productivity caused by ineffective communication and inaccurate project data, going digital is the only way forward. By leveraging construction technology one can seize the incredible financial opportunities that 2022 will usher in, as cost savings can no longer be ignored."

Until we can attract more people to the industry, we need to find ways to do more work with fewer resources. It might be time to investigate technology to help.