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Skills Training is Integral to the Success of the Federal Infrastructure Plan and New York’s Construction Sector

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Construction workers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

From the first day of its introduction, the Biden infrastructure plan has been cast as a critical tool to transform our nation’s economy after the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  

This bipartisan deal aims to pump $1.2 trillion over the course of eight years into repairing and building new roads, bridges, broadband, and electric vehicle infrastructure, creating millions of new, good-paying jobs that will accelerate the covid recovery. 

With the influx of billions of dollars into the state, New York’s construction industry has a unique opportunity to address its longstanding labor shortage – an undertaking that will require the reskilling of thousands of workers in order to succeed.  

The industry lost over 60,000 jobs in New York alone over the past year, a 20.8% decrease, according to New York Department of Labor data. When jobsites closed and production halted during the COVID-19 pandemic — albeit temporarily — thousands of workers were sidelined, and many did not return even after work was allowed to resume with strict public health protocols in place.  

But the reality is that a labor shortage existed even prior to the COVID-19 crisis and has only been exacerbated over the past year. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) estimates that companies will need to hire 430,000 more workers than they employed in 2020. That far-reaching hiring effort will be critical to the long-term success of the economic recovery, as an analysis by ABC revealed that for every $1 billion in extra construction spending, an average of 5,700 jobs is generated. 

As the state is almost fully reopened and returning to some semblance of normal, the construction industry must redouble its efforts to create a pipeline of skilled workers who can fill the many job openings that are popping up almost daily. That means reaching out to those who might have taken a break from the industry, as well as recruiting new workers from groups that are under-represented in construction – including people of color and women.  

Once we have attracted these workers into the industry, it is critical that we provide them with the skills they need to succeed in building sustainable and lucrative careers. The federal infrastructure plan does not actually include direct funding for skills training. Which makes it all the more important that New York invests at the state level to ensure we are able to capitalize on the opportunities and jobs coming our way.  

Training programs benefit workplaces and job-seekers alike. They provide new workers with confidence as they enter an industry and help existing workers build their resumes and take their careers to the next level. For employers, these programs provide a well-trained and knowledgeable workforce, maximizing worker effectiveness and minimizing jobsite delays.  

Building Skills New York has focused on tackling the labor shortage head-on by partnering with local community colleges to help individuals gain the skill sets and certifications required to both enter and advance in the construction industry.  

Just this month, Bronx Community College and Building Skills launched the Construction Career Accelerator (CCA) Program, which was made possible by a grant from the state Labor Department. The program aims to help participants already placed on construction jobsites across the five boroughs gain the necessary skills to advance their careers, as well as to meet the industry’s need for experienced workers. 

We are particularly pleased to be able to launch this program in the Bronx, which was disproportionately impacted by the pandemic-induced economic fallout. During the height of the covid crisis in May 2020, the borough’s unemployment rate reached nearly 25% – the highest in the city. Providing additional job training opportunities for Bronx residents is especially meaningful at this critical moment in the city’s history.

Building Skills plans to launch additional programs later this summer and in the fall. The priority is to make these programs as accessible as possible, so every interested individual has a chance to pursue a career within this industry. The more we’re able to reskill workers the better chances we have at spurring economic growth.  

With passage of the federal infrastructure bill imminent, the construction industry must be prepared to quickly capitalize on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities it will present. That means investing in quality training programs now to assure we have a well-prepared workforce ready and able to tackle a wide range of projects for years to come.   

David Meade is Executive Director of Building Skills New York. Oswald Feliz is the New York City Council Member for District 15 in the Bronx. On Twitter @BuildSkillsNY@OswaldFeliz.

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