By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

A government and private industry effort to bolster highway construction employment is pivoting from a dozen pilot projects to a Highway Construction Workforce Partnership (HCWP) network aided by a “playbook” of best practices.

The #RoadsToYourFuture program has been developed by ARTBA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), along with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It was introduced to ARTBA members during a webinar earlier this month.

“This partnership has been very helpful in sharing successful workforce development approaches from around the country,” said ARTBA’s General Counsel Rich Juliano, who moderated the webinar. “The program’s expansion will help the industry address its continuing workforce challenges.”

Get the Playbook, Hear the Webinar

The 20-page “Identify, Train, Place” playbook is available to download, plus additional information and materials at FHWA’s Center for Transportation Workforce Development website. A recording of the ARTBA webinar is available for free.

The first play in the playbook is “Let Industry Quarterback Your Team.” The 12 pilot programs (six states and six cities) were not intended to be government prescription to identify, train, and place construction workers. Instead, “the most successful pilot locations put industry and trade groups in the lead to explain the needs of the highway construction industry at ground level—job positions, required skills, and core competencies,” the playbook says. That way, existing government programs could be tailored to meet those needs or, if that was not possible, new programs or partnerships could be formed.

Another key play is to “Communicate the Value of Highway Construction Careers.” The pilot programs found two major challenges in attracting people to highway construction jobs:

  • Poor understanding of the true opportunities in the field. Too many young people believe the construction trades in general require nothing more than manual laborers. But 21st century highway building involves many cutting-edge technologies—including LIDAR, GIS, and joystick-operated heavy machinery—that can be leveraged to attract this critical demographic.
  • A social perception that a college degree is always preferable to a highway construction internship. The push for college attendance by many school systems adds to the challenge. But highway construction is a viable option, with workers earning good wages from the start and plenty of opportunities for upward mobility. Motivated workers can be well on their way to a successful career in the same time it takes to earn a degree.

Finally, private sector workforce recruitment and retention managers and their government partners need to “plan for the long game.” The effort requires lasting management and communication ties among all players, including succession planning to maintain momentum year after year.

ARTBA members consider workforce needs a top priority. As the industry and government partners push for continued and expanded investment in highway and bridge projects, the demands for qualified highway construction workers will only continue to grow.

ARTBA encourages all its members to review the HCWP Playbook and share these ideas with your state and local partners. The playbook and other workforce development issues will be discussed at ARTBA’s National Convention, Sept. 22-25, in Savannah, Ga., and the association’s four regional meetings in October and November.

This story appears in the March/April issue of ARTBA’s Transportation Builder magazine.