How the Infrastructure Bill Could Impact Industrial Job Trends

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Two construction workers on the job

On November 15, 2021, President Biden officially signed the $ 1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) bill into law. Over the next five years, the money will be invested into a range of industries to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, strengthen supply chains, boost American competitiveness, and create millions of new jobs.

Top priorities will include rebuilding and repairing bridges, roads, highways, bridges, ports, and waterways, boosting environmental resiliency, modernizing and expanding public transportation, increasing broadband coverage, and replacing lead piping to improve drinking water infrastructure. To implement a bill of this scale, which contains an additional budget of $ 550 billion above baseline spending, is a massive undertaking – and one that will require a lot of skilled labor.

What Kind Of Jobs Will The Infrastructure Bill Create?

It is expected that the infrastructure bill will result in a 5% increase in US construction spending in 2022 and a further 5.5% increase in 2023.

The task of managing this additional budget and acting on the bill’s requirements will largely fall to federal agencies and state and local governments across the United States. But they’ll require a myriad of skilled workers to help them do the job, including everything from engineers, skilled laborers, and project managers, to construction professionals, truck drivers, architects, and cybersecurity experts.

Indeed, the American Council of Engineering Companies predicts the creation of 82,000 engineering jobs alone, growing the industry from $ 352 billion in 2022 to $ 416 billion by 2026.

Job creation at this scale should spell great news for the industrial sector, shining a spotlight on the exciting, varied, and high-paying job opportunities on offer all over the country. Furthermore, there are some projects (including plans to expand and improve the nation’s broadband coverage) that will create new, competitive positions in some of the US’s most remote regions – elevating long-term career prospects for thousands of Americans.

But, despite the bill offering huge growth potential, is the industry capable of finding the top talent it needs? Ongoing skills shortages, a lack of diversity and inclusion within the sector, and retention challenges could make this very difficult.

1. Skills shortages

We know that the infrastructure bill will drive demand for a new wave of highly-skilled industrial workers. But the sector already has a major skills shortage to contend with.

For starters, a significant portion of infrastructure workers are nearing or already eligible for retirement. If the industry fails to pour resources into attracting and recruiting younger generations, as well as investing in the upskilling of existing workforces, it simply won’t be possible to find people to fill these technical positions. As it stands, the manufacturing skills gap is anticipated to leave 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030, which could cost the US economy as much as $ 1 trillion. The infrastructure bill could end up exacerbating this crisis.

One benefit of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent shift to remote working is that employers can hire people from all over the United States, thus vastly expanding their talent pools.

2. Diversity and Inclusion

The infrastructure bill promises to create millions of jobs for hard-working Americans.

In the United States, the unemployment rate remains particularly low among Black and Hispanic workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) December jobs report revealed that the unemployment rate for Black people increased from 6.5% in November to 7.1% in December.

Furthermore, many women who left the workforce during the pandemic are still to return. This is evidenced by the fact that male workers have regained all the jobs they lost between February 2020 and January 2022, while women fall short by more than 1.8 million jobs.

Industrial employers disproportionately hire the same demographic, which means there must be a greater push to address gaps and build a more diverse workforce.

Employers can tackle this by making a concerted effort to provide training, improve diversity and inclusion initiatives, create flexible and accommodating working environments, and educate prospective employees about the many and varied roles on offer to them within the industrial sector.

3. Retention

In a 2021 survey by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 36% of respondents said finding the right talent is harder now than it was in 2018, while 77% said they expect to experience ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers. In the construction industry alone, there are currently more than 330,000 unfilled jobs.

Despite these workforce challenges, many manufacturing companies have committed to ramping-up production and will likely continue to do so as various facets of the infrastructure bill come into play.

New technologies, including automation, IoT, and additive manufacturing are enabling companies to operate more efficiently and effectively. Nonetheless, they cannot do without a highly-skilled workforce.

While job creation on a massive scale presents fantastic opportunities for candidates who can take their pick from a huge range of industrial roles and negotiate lucrative compensation packages, employers will need to work doubly hard to retain top talent.

Driving a positive and inclusive workplace culture, providing unique career advancement opportunities, and re-vamping benefits packages are a few ways to improve retention.

The infrastructure bill presents several opportunities for the industrial sector, but employers will need to invest significant time and resources to improve retention rates, attract new workers into the profession, and address skills gaps.

Image Credit: M2020 / Shutterstock.com

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