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New Senate bill to support infrastructure workforce
Kirill Abbakumov   on Monday, July 24, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

On July 20, the Senate introduced the bipartisan Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, which would support grants to industry partnerships in transportation, construction, energy, and other infrastructure sectors. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and other federal agencies, the grants would allow local partnerships to develop work-based learning programming and apprenticeships and help workers and businesses get the necessary skills for rebuilding American infrastructure.

The BUILDS Act would help businesses in targeted industries grow and maintain the workforce necessary to keep up with demand, while also ensuring that a diverse range of workers could access the training and credentials needed to find sustainable jobs in these fields. The Act would support implementation grants of up to $2.5 million over three years – and renewal grants of up to $1.5 million - to partnerships comprised of multiple employers in a target industry, education or training providers, labor organizations, local workforce boards, and other stakeholders where appropriate. Partnerships would be required to carry out activities that support:

  • Assistance in navigating the registration process for registered apprenticeship;
  • Connecting businesses and education providers for development of classroom curriculum to complement on-the-job learning;
  • Serving as employers of record for participants in work-based learning programs for a transitional period;
  • Training managers and front-line workers to serve as mentors to work-based learning participants;
  • Helping businesses recruit individuals for work-based learning, particularly individuals being served in the workforce system or by other human service agencies.

Partnerships would focus on apprenticeship and other work-based learning programming during which workers earn wages while obtaining specific occupational skills and credentials along a career pathways in key industries that help advance workers into higher-paying jobs.

The BUILDS Act coincides with strong political interest in infrastructure investment, as President Trump has released a plan to incentivize up to $1 trillion in new funding for construction and related projects that could lead to as many as 11 million new jobs. Businesses in infrastructure currently face intense labor shortages given impending retirements, a lack of diversity in the workforce, and overall skill shortages in growth industries. According to a report by the Departments of Education and Labor, there are 68% more projected job openings in infrastructure jobs over the next five years than there are students training for these jobs, with an approximate potential loss of $200 million in revenues in 2017 due to unfilled technical jobs.