For the last several decades our industry made pilgrimages to Sacramento and Washington D. C. to request more funding going to infrastructure projects and now, just when it looks like we might get our wish, we are confronted with a nasty little surprise.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise, but there aren’t enough skilled people available to do the additional work. We have had countless meetings over the years with schools, local governments, unions, and even our scholarship programs about the need to recruit more young people to sign up for jobs in the construction industry.

These meetings, including presentations to students, with people coming out of the military, or others coming out of incarceration have not met the current need for field workers of all the crafts we employ.

This problem was the focus of a recent research report prepared for the National League of Cities (NLC), our public works customers, who are just as worried as we are about the future workforce.

NLC researchers examined 6.2 million jobs postings made between January and April—10 percent of which were infrastructure related, according to the NLC report. Transportation and installation and repair jobs together accounted for 41 percent of the infrastructure-related jobs posted during that time. The median time it took to fill infrastructure jobs was 23 days, compared to 19 days for jobs in other fields. Architecture and management jobs in the infrastructure industry take even longer to fill.

Overall labor shortages, retirements in infrastructurerelated fields, and decreased investment in workforce training are all feeding into the hiring difficulties that NLC identified, according to the report. Retirements of skilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to become a major challenge, as 2.7+ million infrastructure workers retired over the last decade. 

According to a Georgetown University study of 15 million infrastructure jobs, training issues are not a big concern for 60 percent of available positions, requiring only six months of training with continuing on the job education. The most difficult slots to fill were those that required higher level educations in management, architecture, and engineering. Not surprisingly, those toplevel jobs also paid the most.

Our industry suffers from the perception that construction is a tough, dirty, physical business. While true, this perception misses the mark about the rewards of the work—it is a highpaying, real world job that gives you the right to say, “I built that” in a world full of intangibles.

By Garrett Francis, ECA President Email: [email protected]