Washington, D.C. — Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of National Skills Coalition, released the following statement in response to the record number of unemployment claims in March, and the ongoing negotiations between the White House and Congress to include a $2 trillion infrastructure investment in a fourth round of Covid-19 relief package:
It is horrifying to see that a record 6.6 million people filed for unemployment in the last week of March alone – adding to the 3.28 million from the week before – for a total of nearly 10 million in two weeks. This is a wake-up call for The White House and Congress to come together quickly to pass a fourth phase of stimulus relief that provides income replacement, health care, and re-training support for all displaced workers, including contingent workers; addresses immediate workforce shortages; invests in our recovery; creates jobs, and provides the training necessary to help workers access those jobs.
It is encouraging that lawmakers are considering an overdue investment in our nation’s infrastructure as part of the next stimulus package. Hopefully the White House and Congress will recognize that we cannot successfully upgrade that infrastructure without also investing in the local workers who will be needed to build and run it.
We have recurrently forgotten about these workers in past federal transportation and infrastructure bills. We can’t afford to make that same mistake this time around when millions of unemployed Americans will be looking to these jobs as their potential post-Covid-19 lifeline.
Our national conversation about infrastructure usually revolves around the roads that need to be built, the bridges that need to be updated, the rail systems that need to be upgraded and maintained, the electric and water utilities that need to be modernized. Those are the physical aspects of our nation’s infrastructure. But we often lose sight of the people – the over 14 million skilled workers who are needed today to run that infrastructure, let alone the additional people we will need to modernize it.
That workforce was already facing intense labor shortages before the Covid-19 crisis because of retirements, lack of diversity in the workforce, and overall skill shortages. If the new infrastructure package doesn’t solve that workforce challenge, it would delay construction of new projects and create jobs that too few people are qualified to fill. And it would provide no relief to the millions of our country’s restaurant, hospitality, retail workers (among others) who can’t access those jobs without a federal commitment to train them for those positions.
A people-centered infrastructure plan would include a workforce training component that addresses immediate workforce shortages, expands access to affordable broadband, provides apprenticeship options and support services to newly trained workers for those sectors, and makes an additional effort to ensure that the investments are available to local workers who have been previously excluded from those sectors due racial or gender barriers.
We already have a Highway Trust Fund. A $25 billion investment in a new Workforce Trust Fund as part of the House’s proposed $760 billion infrastructure stimulus package could put millions of currently unemployed and under-employed Americans on a career path to those jobs.
We also need massive new workforce training investments for other sectors that are going to be part of this recovery. Industries that are part of our nation’s emergency response, like healthcare, manufacturing, and energy, needed trained workers yesterday. Today, we see how that is seriously impeding our ability to speedily respond to the pandemic. That’s why Congress must invest an additional $25 billion in funding that helps states address workforce needs, provides targeted training for workers with the greatest skill needs, and establishes a national grant program to support partnerships between industries hiring workers and education providers who can train them. Mayors and local leaders from around the country have already endorsed such an investment as essential to their local economies’ recoveries.
We urge lawmakers to act quickly on a next round of stimulus to address these challenges.