White House calls on states to train workers to renew America’s infrastructure

The Biden administration’s new Talent Pipeline Challenge focuses on training workers for good jobs in the broadband, construction, and electric vehicle sectors.

The White House last week launched a summer-long initiative to get labor unions, companies, and state and local governments to work together to train workers for millions of new jobs expected to be created by the bipartisan infrastructure law.

More than $110 billion, out of a total $1.2 trillion, has already been allocated to road, broadband, energy, and other infrastructure projects and is headed to the states. The administration is concerned the country won’t have enough trained workers to make those projects a reality—with highway and other construction already being stymied by major labor shortages.

The new Talent Pipeline Challenge specifically focuses on training workers for good jobs in the broadband, construction, and electric vehicle sectors.

  • The administration is asking states and municipalities to use the $800 million in job training funds provided by the infrastructure law to quickly increase the supply of workers for high-quality jobs in those fields.
  • It also is encouraging governments to direct more funds from the American Rescue Program to job training.

The initiative is especially focused on public-private partnerships designed to increase access to high-quality jobs for women, people of color, and underserved workers. In that way, it mirrors another initiative—the Good Jobs Challenge—which received applications from more than 500 local and regional partnerships earlier this year.

On the ground: In Missouri, Mardy Leathers, director of the state’s Office of Workforce Development, is thinking about how to bring in some of the federal training dollars in the infrastructure law, which will be awarded through a competitive process.

Last week’s announcement made clear that the administration’s top priorities are equity and job quality, he says, and that states and municipalities will need to focus there.

“Does it change what we do? Not necessarily,” he says. “Does it help us understand what we need to do to get those dollars? Yes.”

Any major training effort, though, will require a high degree of coordination with municipalities and other agencies—in particular the state’s Department of Transportation—that are focused on the immediate demands of getting projects underway. Missouri has been allocated $1.9 billion from the law for infrastructure projects thus far, with more to come.

“It’s us going to the state highway commission and saying, ‘Hey, I know you’re way behind on projects, but let’s carve out some money and time for workforce training,’” Leathers says. 

Those conversations are happening, he says, but getting to ‘yes’ will require a paradigm shift that doesn’t happen overnight.

Industry and labor: Major employers—like Ford Motor Co., which produces F-150s and electric delivery vans in Kansas City—are also at the table, Leathers says. Nationally, union leaders, including the AFL-CIO and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have signed onto the pipeline initiative, as have corporate giants like AT&T, Bechtel, and Siemens AG.

  • Siemens—which plans to produce one million electric vehicle chargers by 2025—is developing new technical training pathways with college partners and recently started an apprenticeship program at its manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
  • The German-based company trains 10,000 apprentices a year in its home country, and has been eager to expand work-based learning in the United States.

The Biden administration also highlighted a number of partnerships between industry and education providers—such as a new fiber optic program at Wilson Community College in North Carolina—that are designed to expand apprenticeships.

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