State Initiatives Seek to Boost Infrastructure Workforce

Efforts ranging from community college-based training programs to job fairs for soon-to-be-released prisoners are part of a push to increase the ranks of skilled infrastructure workers across the country.

[Above photo via Virginia’s Community Colleges]

For example, community colleges, businesses, and trade associations across Virginia recently teamed up to form the Virginia Infrastructure Academy or VIA; a new organization that aims to develop training programs to address the needs of the transportation, wind, solar, and broadband industries.

Photo by the Virginia DOT

Education programs will include heavy construction and maintenance, focusing on road, bridge, and tunnel construction; broadband expansion; and on- and off-shore wind and solar energy infrastructure and distribution.

VIA’s leadership believes that “strategically scaling up” and replicating successful infrastructure-related community college training programs, which now produce 4,000 graduates annually, could produce a total of 35,000 workers skilled in those disciplines over the next five years.

“Industry needs in the face of evolving technology played a leading role in the creation of our institutions,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, in a statement.

“We’ve arrived at yet another urgent moment,” he noted. “And our ability to connect individuals with high-demand infrastructure jobs, which offer family-sustaining wages and career advancement opportunities, will determine not just their future success but that of the entire commonwealth.”

The Lumina Foundation is funding the VIA’s start-up cost with a two-year, $400,000 grant. That funding will support an initial review of existing infrastructure programs across Virginia’s 23 community colleges, a plan for initial program growth through in-person and virtual offerings, and outreach to potential students, explained Kermit Kaleba, strategy director for Lumina’s Employer Aligned Credential Programs.

“New investments in infrastructure will lead to millions of new jobs, many of which will require some form of training beyond high school but not a four-year degree,” Kaleba said. “Community colleges are critical partners in ensuring that workers – especially adults of color – can get the skills they need to take advantage of these new opportunities.”

Meanwhile, the California Department of Transportation recently participated in a civil service workshop and hiring event for incarcerated individuals held at the California State Prison in Solano. Caltrans said in a statement that it offered 23 people conditional highway maintenance job offers prior to their parole or full release from prison, which will occur within the next year.

That hiring event is part a three-year $37 million Prison to Employment Initiative that seeks to improve labor market outcomes for former prisoners.

This is the second such job fair held at the Solano Prison, according to the California Prison Industry Authority.

Some 34 incarcerated individuals in all took the entry-level Highway Maintenance Worker or Landscape Maintenance Worker exam over the last two years, with 33 successfully passing one or both exams. Since the first workshop and hiring event in 2019, Caltrans offered 33 individuals conditional job offers.

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