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Improving America’s aging infrastructure is one of the few truly bipartisan ideas in Washington. But do we have the skilled workers—and particularly managers—to do the job?

In research for the National Network of Business and Industry Associations, Burning Glass Technologies looked at the labor market for infrastructure skills. We found that while infrastructure work employs one in eight Americans already, there are several significant workforce challenges in getting the job done.

Even though the nation spends roughly $400 billion a year on public infrastructure, the need is much greater: the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. an overall grade of “D+” for infrastructure. In addition, fully 25% of today’s infrastructure workers are likely to retire over the next few years.

That means that a lot of managers are retiring, just as the demand for people to lead projects is expanding. Project management and scheduling skills are crucial to any major building initiative. But other managerial skills such as leadership, relationship building, performance analysis, and budgeting are in high demand. As younger workers are promoted into managerial roles, it’s important that they get in-depth, specific training to succeed.

 

How to read the chart:

  • Skill Relevance: How important is this skill in this occupation? This is assessed by the frequency of job ads specifically mentioning the skill.
  • Supply Shortage: What is the magnitude of the skill gap in this occupation? More specifically, it shows how many more openings employers have demanding the skill than there are workers who possess it.

In addition, many rapidly growing occupations face supply shortages. There are just not enough new entrants to keep up with employer demand. Construction Managers and similar positions are likely to be a problem, but challenges are also particularly severe in fast-growing roles such as Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers and roles with changing skill sets, such as Logisticians.

In some roles, there may be enough workers to meet demand, but those workers do not have the specific technical skills employers need. This is particularly a problem as new technology becomes integrated into more fields. Job postings for electricians, for example, increasingly ask for electrical engineering (usually a college-level skill). In other technical jobs, as routine tasks are automated, the shortfall for workers is in collaborative, problem-solving “soft skills.” For example, the gaps for CNC Programmers are in skills such as writing, communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Is there an answer to the looming shortage of infrastructure managers? One strategy would be to ensure current workers get the skills they need to take charge of projects in the future. Developing strong career pathways and identifying the specific skills that can turn a worker into a manager is critical. In the report, “Ready to Build? The State of Skills in the Infrastructure Workforce,” we identify skills that can turn hands-on workers into management material. But employers and educators have to do the outreach and support the training needed to fill the gap.

Turning Workers into Managers

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