The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides a considerable investment in American infrastructure while recognizing the need to train and create pathways for people to enter career fields related to infrastructure. As part of the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, four major departments — Commerce, Energy, Labor and Transportation — have substantial workforce development and training funds available to them.
While the funds are not specifically targeted toward postsecondary institutions, the federal law recognizes community and technical colleges as possible providers for training and education. The funding allocations include:
- Department of Energy: $10 million for Career Skills Training; $150 million for expansion of Industrial Assessment Centers to provide energy engineers.
- Department of Labor: $50 million in Strengthening Community Colleges Training grants.
- Department of Transportation: Up to $280 million over five years to fund workforce development training through the Low and No Emissions Bus Program.
In a December 2021 blog post, our ECS colleagues outlined considerations for state policymakers on how to develop education and training programs to meet their near-term needs. Looking beyond meeting short-term workforce training demands, there is an increasing need to consider future education and training beyond initial credential attainment and job entry.
The enacted infrastructure law can serve as a catalyst for states to consider how they connect infrastructure training with opportunities for future credentials and degree attainment to support an individual’s career growth. As states develop and align training programs, there are opportunities to consider:
- Stackability. Creating a system where credentials or certificates can be applied to other postsecondary degrees, particularly in community colleges, can help students who cannot commit to a long-term program to develop work skills. Establishing community and technical college systems that embed certifications within an associate degree pathway could provide students with near-term credentials or certificates along with the option to use it either exclusively for their career or leverage that training toward a postsecondary degree.
- Mobility. Ensure learners have multiple ways to earn credits and apply those credits toward credentials through strong partnerships among workforce training providers.
- Data. Statewide data systems can provide policymakers with insights into how individuals move through education and training programs. In Colorado, My Colorado Journey provides students and job seekers access to education and training data to help inform their training and education choices.
- Social Supports. People face multiple barriers to accessing education and training. Designing supportive systems can address non-educational student needs like childcare and food insecurity.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, states have made considerable efforts to help individuals transition to new jobs through education and training. The IIJA provides another opportunity for states to leverage federal funds and align recent policy changes to provide short-term skills with an eye toward future educational attainment that will help people advance in their lives and careers.