Will Biden’s Talent Pipeline Challenge help solve the labor shortage?

By Jenny LescohierJune 29, 2022

The measure is intended to encourage employers to use $800 million in job training funds from the $1-trillion Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) for growing the construction workforce

The Biden Administration has kicked off an initiative designed to help alleviate the skilled labor shortage and support workforce development in construction and other key infrastructure sectors, however, not everyone thinks it’s a great idea.

The summer-long Talent Pipeline Challenge aims to “fill high-quality jobs that will help rebuild our infrastructure and supply chains here at home, and continue our transition from a historic economic recovery to steady and stable growth in the years ahead,” according to a White House fact sheet.

The measure is intended to encourage employers, as well as state and local governments, to use $800 million in job training funds from the $1-trillion Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) for growing the construction workforce. Additional money for the program will come from the American Rescue Program.

“This is a nationwide call to action for employers, education and training providers, states, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, and philanthropic organizations to make tangible commitments that support equitable workforce development in three critical infrastructure sectors: Broadband, Construction, and “Electrification” (EV Charging Infrastructure and Battery Manufacturing),” the White House said.

The idea is to help ensure there are trained workers ready to meet the demands of implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which promises the funds, but not the labor.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that trade, transportation and utilities had 1.96 million jobs unfilled in April. The industry also had 979,000 quit that month, the highest among all industries in the U.S.

Workforce diversity

According to the White House, the Talent Pipeline Challenge will encourage employers to partner with and hire skilled workers from at least one training provider in each region in which the employer has operations, such as a registered apprenticeship program or a community college with a diverse student population.

As part of the program, employers can partner with national or regional intermediaries or training providers to build, scale, or support local training models to recruit, train, or hire workers in their sector. The goal is to expand diversity of the talent pool and build local talent.

“Training partnerships will build on pathways to quality jobs for women, people of color, and underserved workers - including those from rural and Tribal communities and communities with persistent poverty,” the fact sheet states. 

Employers are encouraged to invest in the resources and supports like tuition assistance, child care, transportation costs, and emergency aid that are often barriers for workers to participate in training.

Inclusive or exclusive?

Some do not support Biden’s new initiative, claiming it excludes large portions of the workforce in its effort to be encourage equity and diversity... and unions.

Associated Builders and Contractors, for example, released a statement calling the Talent Pipeline Challenge anti-competitive and claimed it will exacerbate the skilled labor shortage.

“For decades, ABC has offered solutions to address the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage, which is 650,000 workers this year, so ABC appreciates the Biden administration recognizing this shortage will make it difficult to deliver the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other taxpayer investments in America’s infrastructure in an efficient and economical manner,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs.

“Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s policies, such as those promoting government-mandated project labor agreements on federal and federally assisted construction projects, will further exacerbate the skilled labor shortage and increase costs because they are designed to exclude 87% of the construction workforce and qualified businesses who have chosen not to affiliate with labor unions from rebuilding America.”

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