Agreeing On More Money For Roads, Bridges May Be Easier Than Finding Workers Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say they would spend more to rebuild the country's aging infrastructure. The problem is there may not be enough people with the right skills to fill those jobs.
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Agreeing On More Money For Roads, Bridges May Be Easier Than Finding Workers

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Agreeing On More Money For Roads, Bridges May Be Easier Than Finding Workers

Agreeing On More Money For Roads, Bridges May Be Easier Than Finding Workers

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There aren't many things the two major presidential candidates agree on, but here's one. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton say they would spend more money to rebuild the country's aging infrastructure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: I want us to have the biggest jobs program since World War II, jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing.

SIEGEL: The problem, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, might be finding enough skilled workers to fill those jobs.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Clinton proposes spending $275 billion over five years and setting up a mechanism to privately fund additional projects. Trump is proposing tax credits to encourage private investment of up to a trillion dollars over a decade. But then there's the question of how to find the skilled labor to build all those roads and bridges. Brian Turmail is a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors, a trade group.

BRIAN TURMAIL: Two-thirds of commercial construction firms in the country report they are having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire.

NOGUCHI: Construction employment in the country is at a healthy and consistent 6.6 million, which is sufficient to sustain today's low levels of infrastructure investment. But about 40 percent of the workforce is made up of baby boomers aging into retirement, and Turmail says there aren't enough young people lining up to replace them.

TURMAIL: One measure that we see is the average age of a new construction worker in this country is 28, and that tells us that most people view construction as a career of last resort.

NOGUCHI: One reason, he says, is that over the years, educational institutions cut back on training programs.

TURMAIL: There was a point in time when virtually every school system in the country had what was then known as vocational education, which was an incredible pipeline for manufacturing and for construction trades.

NOGUCHI: Turmail says there are potential sources of labor if spending increases. Firms are recruiting military veterans and laborers who left during the Great Recession and found work in the energy sector. Cities and states are already working with schools to revive vocational and on-the-job programs that could address demand in the longer term. Companies would keep raising wages and pay more overtime to attract more new workers.

TURMAIL: Many of our members tell us that they have increased pay, that they've increased signing bonuses, that they've added benefits.

NOGUCHI: This is true for JAR Construction in El Paso where Angelica Rosales is director of business development. She says the company attracts and retains workers by paying wages above market rates.

ANGELICA ROSALES: Concrete finishers is a position that you can pretty routinely see us posting for. That's a necessity on our projects.

NOGUCHI: She says El Paso also draws from workers living or commuting from Juarez, Mexico. Still, she worries about the pending retirements of key workers, one in particular with decades of experience.

ROSALES: Kind of the ongoing joke here is that we're not going allow him to retire because he is just such a wealth of knowledge.

NOGUCHI: The city of El Paso has an on-the-job training program for apprentices which is creating a pool of new prospects, and Rosales' firm recently started offering tuition reimbursement as a recruitment tool. Since starting the program, she says they've hired two recent graduates. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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