The nation’s infrastructure systems need to face its other two challenges: climate change and a dwindling workforce.
By Alexa Moreno Perdomo
With a few months under its belt, 2021 is seemingly bringing a wind of change. After what has been a year of tremendous upheaval and unspeakable grief, the nation seems to finally be finding its footing. With the roll-out of vaccinations and positivity rates improving all across the country, states have begun lifting restrictions and pre-COVID life, along with its challenges, have been reintroduced to the national consciousness.
As the nation struggled to find equilibrium, the infrastructure industry kept the nation running and ready for when the pandemic would end; however, now is the time for the nation to refocus and work towards fixing the problems facing infrastructure today.
The Role of Climate Change on Infrastructure
The issues of climate change and the need for improvement to our country’s infrastructure are not new; however, the relationship between the two must be addressed. As part of his “Build Back Better” agenda, President Biden and his administration are working on a multi-trillion dollar job and infrastructure plan that could change America’s infrastructure forever.
Part of the legislation, called the American Jobs Plan, would focus on repairing roads, bridges, waterways and rails, with the focus on not only improving them to be more modern, but also environmentally-friendly. It is evident that infrastructure systems in the country need updating and nothing highlights that need more than the growing climate issue. As the global climate changes, severely impactful weather events are becoming more common and exposing the failures of our infrastructure.
But before this legislation can go into effect, it will have a lot of obstacles to climb. Bipartisanship is necessary for the future of the country; however, it has rarely come easy and so far President Biden and his administration has not seen it with his last legislation push. According to a Boston Globe article, not a single Republican voted for the American Rescue Plan. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill was highly contested for its terms and figures by the GOP.
To ensure the continued health and well-being of the nation, Democrats and Republicans in Congress must work together to ensure that infrastructure repair gets addressed expeditiously and adequately.
“As the nation struggled to find equilibrium, the infrastructure industry kept the nation running…now is the time for the nation to refocus and work towards fixing the problems facing infrastructure today.”
More Jobs, But No Workers
With this new legislation comes the potential for hundreds of jobs to be added to the country. According to statistics released in March 2021 by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is at 6.2% and the number of unemployed persons is 10 million.
While most industries faced negative job growth, blue-collar or skilled worker jobs in infrastructure increased. Whereas the problem was that there were no jobs, the problem is now that there isn’t anyone to fill them. A recent study published by The Conference Board detailed reasons for blue-collar labor shortages in the workforce despite demand: older workers, retirements, and lack of knowledge have the potential to cause massive issues for the country’s infrastructure. As Tyler Palmer, Deputy City Supervisor for Moscow, ID and an American Public Works Association Government Affairs Committee Member states in this issue, “Assuring that we have competent people maintaining the critical systems that form the backbone of society should be a primary concern for all of us.”
Organizations like the APWA are attempting to handle the issue of a dwindling workforce by increasing outreach to promote education and credential programs that can help fill these positions. However, it is not just on individual organizations to ensure that infrastructure jobs get filled, it is also up to the government to create solutions.
During a time when there seemed to be no end in sight, the “essential” workers of the infrastructure systems helped keep America standing. These workers put their neighbors and country first to make sure people could live their lives. It is now time for the government to acknowledge that effort. If infrastructure remains a focus, the infrastructure industry will see exciting change in these new few years.