Fuel infrastructure opportunities and invest in Iowa workers

Shaun H. Ruff

Lawmakers in Washington have been presented with a rare opportunity to make dramatic and transformative investments in America’s infrastructure.


As our nation returns to normal and people get back to work, it’s more important than ever that our aging infrastructure receives a generational investment by Congress passing the proposed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

However, Congress has left an essential component to the legislation’s ultimate success on the cutting room floor: meaningful investment in our workforce. Congress must step up and provide significant funding for workforce development. Without this support, we risk not having the skilled workers we need to design, build and maintain roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure projects across the state.

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Between an aging workforce that is retiring at a rapid rate and a decades-long decrease in federal investment in workforce development, most Americans are simply not qualified to fill open infrastructure roles, and employers are struggling as a result. According to data from the National League of Cities, roughly 650,000, or 12%, of the 6 million job postings open between January and April of this year are infrastructure related. An estimated 2.7 million infrastructure workers are expected to retire in the next decade while early estimates of current infrastructure legislation found that 15 million jobs will be created or saved in the same time frame, putting even greater pressure on the job market and making it more difficult for employers to ensure they have the workers they need to get the job done.

Iowa’s economy relies heavily on infrastructure-related jobs and is facing its own hiring gaps. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers reports that equipment manufacturers alone employ 132,000 Iowans — which are jobs that pay 35% above the national average — and contribute $13.7 billion a year to the local economy, and that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would add even more jobs. A half a million manufacturing jobs nationally to be exact.

And in new data, the National League of Cities reported that there are nearly 8,000 infrastructure jobs currently open across the state. With more spending on the way, we will need even more workers to fill these jobs and support Iowa businesses that are rising to meet this demand. As leaders in Iowa’s local government and business communities, we know what needs to be done, with federal support. Congress can empower local workforce solutions and drive resources to approaches that have proven successful in our communities.

For example, boosting investment in and awareness of apprenticeship programs is a key component to helping Iowans build successful careers in sectors like construction and equipment manufacturing. Apprenticeships are a time-tested way of quickly training capable workers who can immediately fill critical infrastructure needs.

A study released in September by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute found that joint labor-management apprenticeship programs in construction trades offer a pathway to the middle class for Iowa’s workers and could benefit tens of thousands of people if current programs are expanded. Meaningful investments in workforce development unlocks opportunities for prosperity while simultaneously supporting Iowa’s businesses, training our next generation of talent to deliver quality work.

Lawmakers in Washington have been presented with a rare opportunity to make dramatic and transformative investments in America’s infrastructure. We thank Sen. Chuck Grassley for his “yes” vote on the infrastructure bill and urge all of Iowa’s leaders to hear our calls to support our workers via investments in workforce development and training programs.

John Lundell is mayor of Coralville. Jason Andringa is president and chief executive officer of Vermeer Corp. in Pella.

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