By Hillary Swetz , Freelance writer and veteran educator
President Biden’s new infrastructure bill, officially called the American Jobs Plan, contains what he calls the “largest jobs plan since World War Two.” His goal? Take $2 trillion in funding and use it to improve the nation’s infrastructure, both from a physical, economic, and social standpoint. According to the White House brief, the three prongs of the plan are to empower workers, create jobs, and connect workers with good jobs now and in the future.
For anyone involved in a trade, technical, or vocational school, their ears should perk up when they hear Biden use phrases like “infrastructure spending” and “the blue collar blueprint to build America.” After all, the goal is explicitly to build up millions of trade jobs and (at least temporarily) revive the blue collar economy over the next decade.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no line in the bill that says, “We’ll give $X directly to trade schools.” However, that doesn’t mean it won’t still be beneficial. Here’s how the American Jobs Plan will help boost trade schools around the country.
According to a study done by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, this bill will “create or save 15 million jobs over ten years.” (Biden has been quoted as saying it might even be closer to 19 million.) Of those jobs, 75% are for “workers with no more than a high school diploma and some non-degreed short-term postsecondary training.”
What kinds of jobs fall in that 75%?
Improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure takes up the largest chunk of the American Jobs Plan at a whopping $621 billion. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the largest subset of the plan’s job creation will be in the transportation and material moving operations sectors. Nearly 9 million of the plan’s expected 15 million jobs will be in transportation.
Some of these jobs will require going through certificate programs, like those required to earn a commercial driver’s license. CDL certificates are, by some measures, the most in-demand certificate type in the country. Many trade schools already offer such programs, making them primed for an influx of new students wishing to land a good job.
Biden has called on Congress to spend $213 billion on building, repairing, and upgrading America’s homes and housing units, especially by outfitting them to be energy efficient. Included in that is the creation or improvement of 500,000 houses specifically for low- and middle-class home buyers.
In addition to new homes, the plan earmarks $137 billion for the building and improvement of America’s public schools, community colleges, and child care facilities.
All of these projects will require carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, HVAC technicians, and more to be successfully carried out.
Plumbing and Pipe Fitting
One of the largest undertakings of the whole American Jobs Plan is to completely do away with all lead piping in the country. One major result of this will be improving the drinking water of 400,000 schools and child care facilities, many of them in communities predominantly lived in by people of color.
This will necessitate a small army of plumbers and pipefitters, all of whom will need to be trained (and ideally, have started or completed their apprenticeships) before they can get to work. Trade schools geographically near large concentrations of lead pipes, for instance those in Illinois and Ohio, might soon see a sharp uptick in demand for these programs.
Many of the goals laid out in the American Jobs Plan are focused on improving our digital infrastructure. The biggest goal, outfitting 21.3 million Americans with access to high-speed, broadband internet to achieve 100% nationwide coverage, will create the most tech jobs, especially in the short term. Updating cities and transportation systems with smart and clean technologies will also create jobs, of course. Both the installation of new systems and hardware and the maintenance and upkeep for years to come will require skilled individuals.
Currently, informational technology fields have the highest concentration of industry-based certified workers. This is good news for a sector primed to launch even further into the future, especially in the rural and low-income areas most impacted by lack of broadband. Therefore, trade and technical schools operating in areas with low access to high-speed internet might see a jump in applicants for entry-level tech certifications, since the area will have new openings for workers to maintain the system.
According to a widely shared study by AAPR, 90% of adults in America ages 65 and older want to live in their homes as long as possible, but also don’t want to be a burden to their families. However, waiting lists for affordable assisted living facilities are long- some estimates say over 700,000 Americans are on one such list. The Biden infrastructure plan lays out a path forward to spend $400 billion on home and community care for the disabled and elderly, leading to increased levels of independence and freedom for aging adults by allowing them to live at home with access to trained home healthcare support.
Part of this plan involves designing and implementing brand new apprenticeship programs for home healthcare workers. This is great news for technical schools, where one of the educational cornerstones is already healthcare fields and certification programs exactly like those required for this level of home healthcare work.
The once booming manufacturing industry in America has been hammered in recent decades by automation and jobs being outsourced to countries like China. Biden’s infrastructure bill plans to reclaim some of that history. In his own words, “American tax dollars are gonna be used to buy American products, made in America to create American Jobs.” New, but high-demand sectors, especially those in green energy and medical supply spaces, have a huge need for manufacturing here. Products like electric car batteries and windmill turbine blades can be made just as easily in Pittsburgh as China, and reduce our reliance on foreign supply chains.
Positions like machinists, technicians, and precision assemblers will be in high demand to fill all the jobs created by this section of the bill, which in turn will put pressure on vocational schools to rise to the challenge of educating them all.
Some Training, but not College
In general, though college isn’t necessary for landing a job in one of those fields, they all require some amount of training. For example, the vast majority (67%) of these newly created jobs will only need 0-6 months of additional training for workers with a high school diploma or less.
Trade schools are uniquely situated to provide these kinds of educational opportunities. In general, they’re used to students coming and only staying for certificate or diploma lengths of study (1-2 semesters). This means their business model won’t be unduly shaken up. Compare this to community colleges who have more of a focus on associate degree programs. They would have a harder time adjusting to the fast in-and-out pace of students and the impact it would have on recruitment patterns.
Technical schools also already have relationships with the local employers and likely government contracting agencies. This will be extremely important when the competition becomes fierce for workers. Employers will know they can trust the students coming out of a trade school, so students can transition into employment better and faster.
Finally, trade schools already work with those workers interested in entering a blue collar field. They understand what it means to be a working class person, and know how to properly market themselves to their ideal student.
Most importantly, trade schools already offer much of the educational coursework necessary to certify someone in one of these fields. If people want to land one of the jobs created by the new infrastructure plan, they know trade schools are the place to get the training and certifications they need.
The President has earmarked $100 million of the $2 trillion plan specifically for workforce development. This investment in the education of American workers is designed to be a lasting support to the country and its infrastructure, not just a one-time benefit. Especially with the future of automation looming ahead of the lowest-earning workers, further job training will be essential to keep the country moving forward.
In his address to Congress on the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden described the plan as designed to create “jobs you can raise a family on with, as my dad would say, with a little breathing room.”
So what projects does the plan specifically list under workforce development?
Apprenticeship programs are the biggest part of the new workforce development section. The infrastructure bill would create one to two million brand new registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship slots. Thes won’t be limited to the currently accredited apprenticeship programs either. There are plans to create brand new, registered apprenticeship programs in high-demand industries like clean energy, technology, and healthcare.
Part of this will be accomplished by bringing together a new National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships. The goal is to bring together a “diverse set of stakeholders from across the country – including unions, employers, apprentices, community colleges and other institutions – to build a registered apprenticeship program that works in all communities.”
You can bet that trade and technical schools will have a seat at that table. Many already boast world-class apprenticeship programs. They also have a proven track record as excellent institutions with the ability to create high-quality training programs. The knowledge and planning abilities of trade schools will be critical to successfully building up the next generation of trades and craftspeople.
Training and Retraining
People like those formerly incarcerated or those who lost a job through no fault of their own (for example through downsizing, automation, and Covid-related lockdowns) will have a second chance at gainful employment with the American Jobs Plan. The bill will spend $52 billion in training or retraining programs, much of that geared towards quickly growing fields like manufacturing, caregiving, and renewable energy.
Biden calls the American Jobs Plan a “once in a generation investment in America itself.” His plan to lift the nation out of the recession caused by the coronavirus involves putting millions of Americans back to work. This means training them for “new, good-quality, union jobs” that can truly support individuals and families who want a better life.
With all the spending on the blue collar economy, trade schools need to prepare for an influx of students looking to take advantage of new opportunities. Expanding programs and acceptance rates, hiring additional teaching staff, and making stronger connections with employers will all be part of the plan for bolstering trade schools and propelling them into the future.
About Hilary Swetz
Hillary was a veteran high school teacher before going rogue and becoming a freelance writer. She’s on a mission to make the world a more educated place, from preschool to graduate school, and loves to connect with others on the way.