I grew up in Milwaukee County and chose to raise my family here. When I graduated from Wauwatosa West High School, it was taken for granted that most students would graduate with a four-year degree. My friend “wasted” time at a local four-year college before realizing carpentry was his calling. He now runs his own local homebuilder – and he makes more than a lot of graduates I know.
I have kids in Milwaukee County schools now, and like most kids in schools today, they too are taken to four-year colleges, even if it’s not a good fit for the students, their abilities, or their passions. As President of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers based in Milwaukee, I can attest to the bright future that a career in crafts can offer, and I hope that more families and students will start considering crafts as an important career path for their future and the future our country.
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All parents want to put their child on the road to success. But today, success can be found in places most have not previously considered – such as B. Infrastructure. For many students, a job in infrastructure could offer a lifetime opportunity. Wisconsin has given more than $5 billion to rebuild our roads and bridges, improve transit transportation, expand broadband access, ensure access to safe drinking water, and modernize our airports.
In addition to finally developing world-class infrastructure here at home, this spending is intended to spur economic growth and provide well-paying careers for the next generation—our children. With more than 2 million jobs expected to be added each year in the infrastructure sector over the next 10 years, we must encourage our schools and elected officials and business leaders to embrace the value of human resource development.
To better understand how to maximize returns from this one-time investment, AEM partnered with the Brookings Institution to study best practices for people development. According to the report, 17.2 million American infrastructure workers are currently employed in 91 different trades. Although this accounts for 10% of America’s workforce, there is not enough skilled labor to meet the long-term needs of the infrastructure sector.
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Infrastructure spending will generate millions of dollars for communities across Wisconsin to plan and develop major infrastructure projects. That means we need to train skilled workers for long-term careers in local infrastructure operations and development, not just short-term construction jobs.
From aircraft mechanics to water treatment plant operators, the infrastructure workforce is a diverse mix of talents. The breadth of manual and technical skills required to develop next-generation infrastructure is impressive, and training for such a diverse workforce needs to be comprehensive and coordinated.
With state and local politicians now deciding how to allocate their infrastructure funds, there is no better time to discuss the importance of workforce development. Careers in infrastructure pay better than many other options – workers can earn 30% more with the right skills.
With long project lifecycles and an abundance of work, infrastructure is an exciting career field for young, working families pursuing the American Dream. This is a great way for our leaders to maximize their return on investment because by investing in their people, communities will thrive.
In addition to creating career paths for Wisconsin’s youth, coordinated workforce development programs can also help reskill left-behind workers and prepare them for meaningful careers in the infrastructure sector. Through the use of innovative partnerships, these programs could use targeted infrastructure funds to develop job-based education programs, create a pipeline of highly skilled workers, and infuse the industry with native talent to modernize Wisconsin’s infrastructure.
It’s all very doable, but it takes planning and coordination to capitalize on this opportunity.
Parents and business leaders should urge decision makers to include vocational education in infrastructure spending. Let’s give Wisconsin’s youth and forgotten workers the opportunity to invest in their future during this massive infrastructure upgrade.
Megan Tanel is President of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers in Milwaukee.