The Infrastructure Opportunity

The Infrastructure Opportunity

August 24, 2016  | Robert Puentes

As we careen toward the November election, there does not seem to be much upon which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree. One of those very few things, however, is the opportunity to create good paying jobs by rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. And for good reason.

It is estimated that more than 14 million jobs – about 11 percent of civilian workforce in the U.S. – are directly related to infrastructure. These span a multitude of professions from pilots and truck drivers, to dock workers and engineers. What’s more: A recent report from the U.S. Departments of Education, Transportation, and Labor finds that the transportation sector alone is projected to add 417,000 net jobs from 2012 to 2022 due just to growth in the industry. Another 4.2 million workers will need to be hired to fill positions created due to retirement and other changes.

So it makes sense for the candidates to focus on these jobs. Not only are there a lot of them, they offer competitive wages (especially at the lower end of the scale). They often come with on-the-job training, require less formal education and have lower barriers to entry. They boast strong benefits (health care and pensions) and there is little to no seasonal variation (so little sensitivity to “boom and bust” cycles). Many employees stay in the industry and with the same employer for their whole career. And they come with the added bonus of being difficult to outsource overseas.

However, while jobs in transportation are available at all levels of education, narrow training and pipeline channels tend to divert prospective transportation workers away from the sector. Women, for example, make-up 47 percent of the American workforce but continue to be highly underrepresented throughout the transportation industry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women comprise only 15 percent of transportation and material moving occupations, and only 5.8 percent of commercial truck drivers are women. The public transit (35 percent) and aviation (34 percent) sectors have relatively higher shares of women employees, yet still significantly lower than national average

There are also stark race and ethnic divisions. For the transportation construction industry alone, African-Americans comprised only 6 percent and women comprised less than 3 percent. By contrast, Latinos have a strong presence in the sector, though they are highlight concentrated in jobs that pay below the median wage.

And while the future job opportunities may be tantalizing, the transportation sector is already facing critical workforce shortfalls today. For example, according to a report by the Transportation Learning Center half of the industry’s current workforce will be retiring within 10 years. Much is written about the shortage of drivers in the trucking and logistics sectors but similar challenges exist in public transit and construction.

While the phrase “jobs in transportation” may conjure up images of workers building miles of roads across the landscape, the vast majority of transportation jobs actually lie in operations and maintenance. So more so than the guy in the reflective vest by the side of the road, think about the truck mechanic, the Uber driver, the railroad conductor and the freight shipper.

That’s central to remember as the presidential candidates talk about raising billions of dollars for infrastructure. It is important to recall that the opportunity for jobs in transportation is not just the worker filling the pothole, but the person driving the bus on top of it.

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