How can we create opportunities out of our crumbling infrastructure? And what opportunities will renewed infrastructure bring? These were some of the questions posed at an Aspen Institute panel event called “Building Good Jobs into America’s Infrastructure Investments.” The event was part of Working in America, a series of ongoing discussions on an array of critical issues affecting low- and moderate-income workers in the United States. Both parties have discussed investing in our nation’s infrastructure, a prospect that comes with many potential benefits to the American economy and society. Policymakers see the infrastructure investments as a way of responding to the clear concern about jobs expressed by their constituents. Citing examples from their own careers, panelists weighed in on how to ensure these investments advance workers, companies, and communities.
Creating pathways for young people
Dana Redd, the mayor of Camden, NJ, recounted her personal history as someone who did not follow the traditional path to college. She said politicians should use the bully pulpit to advocate for educational opportunities and local hiring. It’s important that young people in particular are exposed to non-traditional fields and investments are made in their skill development.
Looking beyond the hard hat
Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institute challenged listeners to look beyond the hard hat when thinking about infrastructure workers and how they affect the lives of everyday Americans. While the industry contributes millions of jobs to the workforce, the growing demand for these workers is not currently being met. Local, state, and federal governments need to be more forward thinking to create a robust workforce and invest in the nation’s future.
Worker quality vs. quantity
Denise Fairchild, president of the Emerald Cities Collaborative, works to bring together coalitions of public, private, and community organizations as part of a single economy. While she advocates for the creation of more jobs, she explained that sometimes you must sacrifice quantity for quality. Unions have had a historic role in ensuring jobs that are equitable for workers. Discussions on worker’s rights must become more open, though, so other voices can be heard.
Diversity in the workplace
Charles “Rick” Moore is the Director of Community Relations at Swinerton Incorporated, a commercial construction company. He said that advancing diversity and inclusion in the infrastructure industry should take place at every level, including the executive. It’s not enough to just hire more women and minorities — it’s the responsibility of companies to engage these workers and create environments that result in long-lasting careers.