On July 20, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation, the Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, that would support grants to industry partnerships in transportation, construction, energy, and other infrastructure sectors. The grants, which would be administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and other federal agencies, would allow local partnerships to develop work-based learning programming, such as apprenticeships, that help workers and businesses get the skills they need to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.
The BUILDS Act coincides with strong political interest in infrastructure investments. As National Skills Coalition highlighted in our recent issue brief, “Building America’s Infrastructure Workforce,” both President Trump and Senate Democrats have released plans to incentivize or support up to $1 trillion in new funding for construction and related projects, investments that could lead to as many as 11 million new jobs. President Trump also designated an “Infrastructure Week” earlier this year, during which the administration set a goal of infrastructure investment leading to one million new apprentices in two years, and signed an executive order on July 19th establishing the Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure.
Even before new investments, businesses in infrastructure face intense labor shortages because of 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 percent more projected job openings in infrastructure jobs over the next five years than there are students training for these jobs and According to a member survey conducted by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, its members poised to lose out on close to $200 million in revenues this year due to unfilled technical jobs.
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, family-supporting jobs in these fields. The bill is consistent with the broader recommendations outlined in NSC’s Skills for Good Jobs agenda released last November.
The BUILDS 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 business engagement activities that support the development of short- and long-term talent pipelines, including:
- 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; and
- Helping businesses recruit individuals for work-based learning, particularly individuals being served in the workforce system or by other human service agencies.
Partnerships would also provide support services to ensure participant success in work based learning. These services would be divided between three stages:
- Pre-employment: prior to a work-based learning participant entering employment, the members of the partnership would provide support and training necessary to ensure the worker was prepared to enter a work-based learning or apprenticeship program. At this stage, the partnership may provide skills training, work attire and tools necessary for the work site, wrap around services such as childcare and transportation and job placement assistance;
- Early employment: During the first six months of the participant’s connection to the employer, the partnership would provide continued support to ease the transition for both the worker and the business. For example, a partnership could serve as an employer of record for a transitional period and provide subsidized wages from grant funds, as well as provide continuing case management and support services, mentoring, and training necessary to ensure the participant’s continued connection to the program; and
- Continuing employment: after the participant is on-boarded to the company, the grant recipient would provide at least 6 months of continuing support necessary to ensure participants are able to succeed in work-based learning programs.
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.
National Skills Coalition applauds Senators Kaine and Portman for their leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working to working to advance the BUILDS Act as part of broader efforts to enhance our nation’s infrastructure.