Laura Cataldo at the ARTBA National Convention in New York City.

By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

More than 80 percent of U.S. contractors are experiencing labor shortages, according to a recent industry survey. The problem is especially acute in the transportation design and construction industry, a workforce specialist told ARTBA’s 2018 National Convention earlier this month.

“Workforce is a huge concern for the transportation industry,” said Laura Cataldo, senior manager of construction & real estate services at Baker Tilly. A contractor’s daughter, she spent 25 years in the construction industry before joining the Madison, Wisconsin, accounting and business advisory firm.

The U.S. economy is booming, and the nation’s population is growing. That’s creating demand for transportation infrastructure construction and repair.

“With the national unemployment rate holding below 4 percent, the lowest in 50 years, employee retention is as important as recruitment,” Cataldo said. “Employers need to recognize the necessity of providing training and incentives in addition to higher wages and other standard benefits in order to recruit and retain their workforce.”

Headhunters are aggressively poaching the best workers, Cataldo warned. “When you lose people, it gets harder to fill the gaps.”

Cataldo emphasized there are great workforce development funding opportunities available through the U.S. Department of Labor. Several key programs include:

  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
  • American Apprenticeship Initiative
  • Native American Programs
  • Ex Offender Programs
  • Youth Build
  • Career and Technical Education Grants
  • Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations

In addition, Workforce Opportunity Tax Credits provide companies a tax credit up to $2,400 per individual hired from targeted groups that have faced significant barriers to employment.

Cataldo also encouraged employers to get involved in their state’s Workforce Investment Boards. Board members, appointed by governors and other elected officials, provide industry representation that drives how federal workforce funds are directed at the local level.

Many workforce boards struggle to find adequate industry representation, Cataldo said. That’s why transportation design and constructions firms should make the effort to get involved.