Investing in infrastructure means investing in high-quality jobs in Tennessee | Opinion

Our nation is poised to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure over the next decade. However, unless we can develop a skilled workforce to actually build and maintain these projects and systems, we will not be able to maximize the return for our communities and our country.

As the global pandemic continues to wane and Americans find their footing again, unemployment rates have plummeted.

In March, the U.S. unemployment rate edged down to 3.6% – only 0.1 percentage points higher than the unemployment rate in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Nashville metro area, we have already reached pre-pandemic unemployment levels. As exciting as these numbers are for Wall Street, they don’t paint an accurate picture of the hardships our local economies continue to face.

Unfortunately, due to the national labor shortage, there are currently not enough skilled workers to fill these jobs. Unless we take bold action to create a comprehensive talent pipeline and invest in the quality of these jobs, there will be even less qualified workers ready for future infrastructure projects.

More: Why economic growth is good for Nashville and helps us fix our problems | Opinion

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Infrastructure jobs pay above most industrial gigs

Since 2014, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ Infrastructure Vision 2050 has developed innovative, transformative solutions to our country’s infrastructure needs.

Last year, AEM partnered with the Brookings Institution to develop a report outlining how future infrastructure investments should account for modern challenges like climate change and the new digital economy and stressed how those improvements cannot be made without a high-skilled workforce.

Stephanie Coleman
Stephanie Coleman

According to this Brookings report, 17.2 million workers – or more than one in every 10 workers nationally – were employed in the infrastructure industry across 91 different skilled trades including truck drivers, electricians, and plumbers.

From aircraft mechanics to water treatment operators, infrastructure jobs can pay 30% more than other industrial jobs. Hourly wages at the 10th and 25th percentiles stand at $13.68 and $16.82 in these jobs, compared to $10.35 and $13.02 in all jobs nationally.

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Workforce development investments are vital to the future

State and local leaders across Tennessee are making historic investments in updating and improving our infrastructure while also creating high-quality jobs to help Tennesseans flourish.

Austin Ramirez
Austin Ramirez

By leveraging funding for the impressive number of infrastructure projects on the horizon, our elected officials have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use this infrastructure funding to support workforce development programs that can lead our communities to prosperity.

Getting this historic infrastructure investment right means creating innovative partnerships between business leaders, elected officials and educational institutions to create comprehensive trades-based education programs where workers could receive the high skilled training they need to enter into a wide variety of infrastructure careers.

By training and investing in Tennessee workers, we are investing in our long-term economic growth.

Not only is making investments in workforce development vital to modernizing Tennessee’s infrastructure to meet the growth throughout the state, supporting high-skilled trades provides Tennessee workers the quality jobs they need to support their families and revitalize communities.

Stephanie Coleman is the Chief Talent Development Officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Austin Ramirez is CEO of Husco and Chair of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ Infrastructure Vision 2050 taskforce.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Infrastructure in Tennessee means investing in high-quality jobs