In November, Congress passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill to invest about $1 trillion in a range of different priorities, including building and strengthening our nation’s roads and bridges, expanding broadband access, and improving public transit.
This law not only opens the potential for job creation but creates more opportunity for partnerships with community colleges. A March 2021 estimate from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that a new federal infrastructure bill could create as many as 15 million new jobs in construction and other industries. While that estimate was based on an earlier and larger proposal from the Biden administration, it is likely the final bill will still generate millions of new opportunities for U.S. workers.
Just as important as the overall number of jobs created is the types of jobs created, particularly for workers without a bachelor’s degree. According to the Georgetown report, as many as 85 percent of jobs created through an infrastructure bill will require an associate degree or below. About 60 percent of jobs will require six months of training or less.
This report shows there’s a massive opportunity for our nation’s more than 1,000 community colleges to help create pathways into well-paying jobs for job seekers, particularly for adults of color. Many community colleges partner with construction companies, labor unions, and other stakeholders to offer high-quality training in critical infrastructure occupations. The new jobs created by federal investments will only increase the need for training.
However, it will be essential to ensure that community colleges are mindful of historical inequities in the sector. As noted in the Georgetown report, white workers hold most infrastructure jobs, and Hispanic and Latino workers are concentrated in jobs requiring less than a high school education, meaning they are likely left out of opportunities for higher wages and advancement. Community college leaders should seek to eliminate those gaps and create programs that support meaningful access for workers of color. In addition, men fill 90 percent of all infrastructure jobs, making it critical to focus on increasing opportunities for women in these family-supporting jobs.
Some states are taking the lead in making sure their community colleges are ready for the challenge:
- California’s High Road Construction Careers initiative supports partnerships between community colleges, employers, community-based organizations, and building and construction trade councils to help prepare disadvantaged Californians for construction pathways. The initiative helps provide structured pre-apprenticeship training and support services that lead to state-certified apprenticeships in key occupations and sectors. Lumina Foundation recently awarded a $1 million grant to the Foundation for California’s Community Colleges to deepen partnerships with community colleges and the construction careers initiative, with a goal of helping students with literacy and other basic skills.
- The newly launched Virginia Infrastructure Academy is a partnership between Virginia’s community colleges, trade associations, and others to help expand access to quality training in the transportation, clean energy, and broadband industries. Supported in part by Lumina Foundation, the academy will help evaluate and update workforce opportunities across Virginia’s 23 community colleges and support up to 35,000 Virginians in getting needed skills and credentials over the next five years.
The new law offers hope for millions of U.S. workers, especially people of color and women, but community colleges and other partners must step up to make those benefits happen. California and Virginia serve as examples for community colleges when it comes to making a difference in building local career opportunities.