Building an Inclusive 21st Century Infrastructure Workforce
with Andy Van Kleunen of the National Skills Coalition
Following the federal government’s recent investments, communities across the U.S. are implementing new infrastructure projects.
Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, joins host Tetiana Anderson to the share the importance of investing in skills training to support an inclusive 21st century infrastructure workforce.
January 03, 2023
Anderson: The federal government is investing over $1 trillion through three initiatives. They're aimed at revitalizing our nation's aging roads, bridges, and water infrastructure, closing the digital divide, and bringing new clean energy sources to local communities, all while boosting the economy. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The recent investments in our nation's infrastructure could create millions of good-paying jobs in America but there's one problem. Who is going to fill all these positions? Joining me to talk about the importance of training the next generation of infrastructure workers is Andy Van Kleunen, the CEO of the National Skills Coalition. And Andy, thank you so much for being here.
Van Kleunen: Tetiana, thanks for having me.
Anderson: So I know you all are focused right now on shifting to the who in this equation. So what are you doing to really get the word out to these potential workers that these opportunities are here for them?
Van Kleunen: Well, it's both to the working folks in our country. But it's also for the state, and county, and city officials who are making the plans for how it is that we're going to spend all of these infrastructure dollars. Too often, we've been very focused on the bricks, and the mortar, and the steel that we're investing and not thinking about the people that we need to be trained to actually fill those jobs. And it's particularly important now. We have a lot of these jobs that are going unfilled in the construction, and manufacturing, and water and electrical utilities. And we have so many folks who are still struggling economically from the recession from the COVID pandemic. We want to make sure that those retail and hospitality workers that have lost their jobs that have not come back. The women who had to walk out of the workforce in order to take care of their kids at home while they were at school at home. We want to give them a chance to get back into the labor market and to jobs that they never had before. So we had to be investing in their education and training not just to build these projects, but to run these systems for probably decades to come.
Anderson: So what about the states? You mentioned them. I mean, how are you advising them to really be prepared? Is there a to-do list that they need to focus on?
Van Kleunen: Yes, this is something that the White House is paying attention to, as well. They recently issued this Talent Pipeline Challenge where they've gone to the states, and city, and county officials and said. "Tell us what you're doing now to start to train workers so that when the capital infrastructure funds hit your community, you've got a pipeline of folks ready to start building these projects." And what we've been telling local officials are, "Go out and try to find the companies that are committing to finding local people that they're willing to train and employ and work in partnership with labor unions, and community colleges, and workforce boards, and high schools, and others." So we're making sure that we have as many local folks as possible that are in that pipeline. So when the shovel hits the ground on some of these projects, we have a set of folks that are ready to build those buildings.
Anderson: So when you're talking about where these things are working effectively, I'm wondering about what sectors we're talking about in all of this.
Van Kleunen: Sure, I'll give you some examples. I know that many of your viewers are very interested in what we're doing to expand broadband to every part of this country, both urban and rural communities. In Ohio, they think there's going to be more than 30,000 jobs created through that expansion. So they've created a new 5G and broadband workforce strategy that they're investing in training fiber optic technicians today that didn't exist before. In Maryland, we have a new wind farm that they're building offshore. Maryland Works for Wind thinks that there's going to be 12,000 construction jobs created. And another 3,000 jobs created for folks to actually take the energy from those turbines and bring it into the cities' power grid. So they now have a strategy that are training people today. And we've certainly heard a lot about the city of Flint, Michigan about all the lead contamination in their water system. It's unfortunately, it's not the only city where that's a problem. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city is working together with labor unions, and community organizations, and some federal resources. To train people to replace more than 70,000 lead sewer pipes and water supply pipes that are going into the community's residences and commercial buildings. That's going to be creating good jobs and clean water for everybody in that city moving forward.
Anderson: So if there are potential either workers or companies who are interested in capitalizing on this, what advice do you have for them so they can get in on it?
Van Kleunen: Let's start training people now. Let's not wait until the shovel hits the ground. We have resources to do it, both private resources but the federal government is making resources available. We want local officials to take some of that capital investment, put it into pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships. Let's think about folks who need other things besides training. So we mentioned all of those mothers who want to get back into the workforce. Let's help to pay for some of their childcare and transportation so that they can manage family, and work, and schooluntil they're making enough money for to pay for those things on their own. Let's include local - small local employers in planning this out so it's not just the bigger companies but the smaller companies are actually going to be part of building this infrastructure future. And let's just collect information about who actually is getting employed through these jobs, and are people of color, and women, and folks without a high school degree. Are we giving them some new opportunities for careers that they otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to access?
Anderson: And you mentioned some pretty specific examples of what's going on already in certain states. But is there a particular state or states where things are just working so well that others should actually look to that state as a model?
Van Kleunen: Well, you know, we have examples in the past when we've had federal transportation bills. Some states have decided to set some of that money aside. The state of Oregon has always been a great example where they've used some of that money to train people. And we have marvelous examples throughout the state where folks who otherwise wouldn't have gotten into some of those infrastructure and construction jobs, including women. Are now doing very well within that sector. We think that the Oregon model could be something that many other states could take on.
Anderson: And I know that people are going to want to know a lot more about what you have going on. Is there a website they can go to?
Van Kleunen: Yes. Please go to the National Skills Coalition website at nationalskillscoalition.org where you can find out more about our people-powered infrastructure campaign.
Anderson: Andy Van Kleunen with the National Skills Coalition, thank you so much for being here.
Van Kleunen: Thanks, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to you for watching, as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.