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The Overlooked Question on Infrastructure: Who will actually turn a sweeping package into action?

Posted: 05/21/2021

By Laura Ness Owens, vice president of marketing, communication and public affairs for Doosan Bobcat and Association of Equipment Manufacturers board member


Originally published May 20, 2021 in the Star Tribune


There is no doubt that Minnesota and our nation are overdue for infrastructure investment. Not only are more than 600 state bridges and more than 4,986 miles of our highways in poor condition, but commute times here have increased by 8.6% over the last decade. However, with over a quarter of all infrastructure-related workers projected to retire or permanently leave the workforce over the next decade, who will actually help turn a sweeping federal infrastructure package into action?


That question is currently overlooked but must be answered. Especially if our nation ends up investing anywhere close to the $3 trillion price tag the Biden administration wants to invest to fulfill everything outlined in its American Jobs Plan.


Investing in Minnesota's manufacturing and infrastructure workforce is critically important to Doosan Bobcat and many other equipment manufacturers. This month we completed a $26 million expansion that will modernize our Litchfield manufacturing facility and triple the size of the current footprint. This investment will also allow us to triple our workforce in the Litchfield community. These family-sustaining jobs, including fabricator, welder and material handler positions, all offer training, competitive and comprehensive benefits packages, and the opportunity for career advancement and leadership roles.


Unfortunately, there is just not enough of this type of investment happening across the United States. A sweeping federal infrastructure bill – ideally one that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans – will help create more of these much-needed jobs in communities across the country. However, the reality is that the American workforce needs skills training to take advantage of these new opportunities.


This is especially true for manufacturing jobs. In fact, the U.S. manufacturing industry faces a potential 2.4 million unfilled positions between 2018 and 2028 due to significant skills gaps. While Doosan Bobcat and other equipment manufacturers already support 85,500 jobs in Minnesota, and our expansion here should help increase that number, without proper training and development it will be increasingly challenging to fill any of these new jobs.


As our industry emerges from the COVID-19 cloud, a new survey by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers found a clear majority (88%) of equipment manufacturers have a positive outlook for 2021. But this optimism is tempered by the growing skills gap and the persistent challenges in attracting entry-level and skilled workers in the right geographic markets.


So how do we address these challenges? First, our elected officials need to support the creation of a robust talent pipeline and focus on developing advanced technical skills and flexible training opportunities for all Americans. This includes championing policies that create new sector partnerships, expand work-based learning programs and increase visible outreach to disadvantaged and underrepresented workers to ensure that infrastructure industries serve as a growing source of economic prosperity.


The American Jobs Plan is a good start as it calls on Congress to invest $100 billion in workforce development programs, including ones that target underserved groups and create career pathways for students before they graduate from high school. But the American Jobs Plan will not solve all of our workforce challenges.


This is something that I made clear during a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and two dozen leading U.S. equipment manufacturers. Raimondo was raised to appreciate the value of hard work and a good, family-sustaining job, and she made her commitment to "strengthening American manufacturing and creating more pathways to careers in manufacturing" clear during our meeting. We greatly appreciate the secretary's leadership on these issues.


We need to continue to have more of these conversations with our elected officials on both sides of the aisle. The president's American Jobs Plan is the first step, but much work remains to be done before it becomes law. And a lot of it will likely change before everything is said and done. It is critical that the proposed investments in workforce development not only remain in the final legislation crafted by Congress, but that we do not stop there. We will need to translate that policy to regional, state and local stakeholders so that they can take full advantage and continue to invest further in workforce development in the years and decades to come.