Washington

Our Nation’s Infrastructure Should Be Built by the People, for the People

On March 31, President Joe Biden put forward the American Jobs Plan. The plan proposes billions of dollars in infrastructure investments and an explicit focus on equity. These investments and this equity focus are essential: More than 10 million people are jobless from the pandemic. And women, immigrants, and people of color are disproportionately represented in these numbers.

Infrastructure should be people-centered; built for the people, by the people. Federal infrastructure investments must be people-centered as well.

A people-centered infrastructure plan invests in training and supports for workers so that they have a shot at the jobs created by the plan. This includes workers displaced from hard hit industries, including many teens and young adults. It includes workers who were jobless before the pandemic. It includes workers who have continued to do essential work on the frontlines throughout the pandemic.

Fortunately, Biden included a $100 billion investment in workforce development in the American Jobs Plan. The president’s companion measure, the American Families Plan, includes expanded childcare and other essential supports for workers pursuing training and employment.

As Congress now works to build a legislative vehicle to drive the president’s plan forward, these essential investments in people must remain in the front seat.

Without these investments, many community colleges, labor-management training providers and community organizations with connections to local residents won’t have the capacity or resources to prepare them for these jobs.

Without these investments, millions of young people and adults won’t have an opportunity to obtain the digital skills and occupational training required to repair roads and bridges, build schools, expand broadband, shore up our power grid and safe drinking water, restore our ports and airports and expand public and energy efficient transportation.

To support an equitable recovery, federal infrastructure investments should require reporting on hires, wages and industry-connected advancement of all workers employed on federally funded projects. This reporting should include race, gender and whether those hired previously worked in that industry. These outcomes should be measured over time.

The task of ensuring that infrastructure investments are people-centered does not fall to federal officials alone. When federal dollars come down, local officials developing plans and bidders’ guidelines can incentivize the training of local workers in how they award contracts.

Employers, unions, training providers and the local workforce system can also work together at the local level to make sure these dollars are spent in a way that supports the equity goals of the American Jobs Plan. They can build clearly articulated pathways for local workers to pursue, ensure training aligns with the skills employers need, put supports in place to ensure a successful transition to a new job and address the bias that has historically kept women and people of color out of infrastructure-related industries. Federal investments in local industry partnerships can support the local capacity required to make this coordination possible.

The work of making infrastructure investments people-centered is hard. Each of us has been a part of successful efforts to ensure that people in our communities have a fair shot at accessing jobs that are generated by public investments. It can be done. It must be done.

The success of an unprecedented federal infrastructure investment should be measured by the roads that get repaired, the schools that get built and the growth in clean energy use. But success should also be measured by so much more, including a range of sustainable community outcomes. These include useability and accessibility of infrastructure projects, growth in community wealth building, boosts to local supply chains, expansion of entrepreneurship and improved community health outcomes. Success should also be measured by the number of community members who have a chance to train for family supporting jobs created by these investments.

But first, Congress must make the $100 billion investment in workforce training to help ensure that the rebuilding of our nation’s infrastructure is by the people, for the people.

 

Robin Arredondo-Savage is a councilmember for the City of Tempe. Daniel Mosser is the president of West Virginia Northern Community College. Ali O’Neill is the co-owner of O’Neill Construction Group. Beverly Scott is the founder and chair of Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure Inc. All four are members of the national Infrastructure Industry Recovery Panel convened by National Skills Coalition and Business Leaders United.

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