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Infrastructure Bill Impact on the Construction Industry Workforce

November 09, 2021
By Peg Landry

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed one of the largest infrastructure packages in US history. The bill includes $1.2 trillion in funds and $550 billion in new investments over the next five years. Roads and bridges get the biggest chunk at $110 billion.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), this is a huge accomplishment. The ASCE has been lobbying for infrastructure for quite some time. They released the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure and 11 out of the 17 infrastructure categories received a grade of “D”.

So how does this impact the construction industry?

According to Moody’s Investors Service, the passage of this legislation could result in a 5 percent increase in U.S. construction spending next year, and another 5.5. percent increase in 2023. Those growth rates would be about two percentage points higher than the spending increases without the bill.

It’s estimated that shovels will not be in the ground for a few more months. However, a statement issued by the White House on November 6th, estimates the bill will create 1.5 million jobs per year over the next ten years.

Can the construction industry handle the load?

Engineering firms agree that the new bill will add more engineering and design services jobs. According to Linda Bauer Darr, President and CEO of the American Council of Engineering, “the Council’s analysis estimates that the bipartisan agreement would create more than 82,000 full- and part-time jobs in engineering and design services, pushing annual sector output to $416 billion by 2026 from $352 billion in 2021”.

So, the bottom line is that more money will be invested and more jobs will be created.  But will the construction industry be able to deliver? In addition to supply chain challenges causing materials shortages, the industry also faces a labor shortage. Many of the new projects such as the creation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations will require a host of engineering, design, and construction professionals.

Sparking new interest in construction industry jobs.

The new infrastructure bill should put a new spotlight on higher paying careers in the construction industry. In addition, there will most likely be new jobs created that don’t currently exist today. The Bill includes many non-traditional infrastructure upgrades such as $65 billion for broadband/Internet. This will hopefully open new job opportunities for talent located in remote regions of the country.

The increased requirement for skilled talent in the architectural and engineering disciplines may also spur higher education to develop and promote more construction related degree programs. Forward-thinking AEC firms are forming partnerships with universities to fund research, develop new programs, and mentor students. The University of Florida is among the academic institutions that invite AEC firms to co-sponsor classes and send their executives to be guest lecturers, review research proposal, and conduct jobsite tours for students. AEC firms are also sources of capital to perpetuate a school’s mission.

In a recent Forbes article, careers in building information modeling (BIM) and virtual design and construction (VDC) are among the up-and-coming career options that are attracting the attention of both large and small educational institutions like Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and Georgia Highlands College in Rome, Georgia. Students interested in a career in technology may look at these programs as great options.

Using technology to widen the talent pool with remote work options.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way people work. But many AEC firms did not skip a beat when their workforce moved home. Their technology strategy enabled teams to continue to access applications and project data from remote locations. In a recent study conducted by Newforma and Dodge Data and Analytics, participants explained that the use of technology to enable remote access has other benefits. Firms shared that their new technology infrastructure has loosened up geographical restrictions on the labor market and talent pool. With the aid of technology, companies can now hire talent from anywhere. Recruiting is no longer limited by geographical areas.