As this column is being written, lawmakers continue hashing out a massive infrastructure bill in Washington, D.C. When it finally passes — which it likely will if it has not already — it will launch a plethora of construction projects improving roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, airports, and other public properties.
It’s going to be great for pavers, bridge builders, roofers, and other contractors, right? I’m not so sure. Before we launch this next “moon shot,” there could be a problem with the very first step.
The first phase of infrastructure improvements will naturally take planning and engineering. Then there will be the usual “discussions” over rights of way and other issues of local concern. Then there will come estimating, bidding, and finally bids awarded, and construction schedules launched.
The problem with the first step is the same problem throughout the entire build process: There is a continuing shortage of engineers; there is a continuing shortage of skilled estimators and project managers, and nearly all levels of construction workers. Including, of course, roofing workers.
The axiom, inappropriately attributed to Abraham Lincoln, comes to mind: “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.” Abe may not have said it, but he was right. I look at “sharpening my axe” in advance of a large project as training workers, especially those in the skilled trades.
I am happy that the government is thinking long term as it relates to infrastructure. It has been set aside too long. But providing opportunities for young people to become educated in the skilled trades has likewise been lacking. And it still is.
The government continues to fund career and technical education programs through the Perkins Act, but needs to consider a “moon shot” approach that would take workforce education to the next level. It is time to start looking hard at the massive funding of four-year university programs that are not delivering what the country needs. So many students do not complete their degrees. Others graduate with oppressive debt. Many graduate only to find jobs that could be filled by high-school graduates.
Great intentions, but we need to start focusing harder on results when it comes to how we educate our young.
So, what do you do? You may begin by doing everything you can to build up the workers you presently employ. Help them improve themselves. Get them trained. Get them certified. Make it all a part of your company’s culture. Most importantly, talk about it. Talk about the need for workforce training to begin in middle and high schools in this country. Talk to your local schools. Talk to your congressional representatives. Talk to your Sunday school class. The more of us talking about worker training and development, the better.
When roofing and construction workers are looked upon as individuals who add value in our society, our society will be better off for it. The “infrastructure” of how we view the hard-working people in our society may be the place where we should spend the first two-thirds of our time before we turn that first shovel.