‘Infrastructure academy’ coming to Austin

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Dive Brief:

  • The Austin, Texas, City Council approved the launch of an “infrastructure academy” to help develop workers for the over $25 billion in civil work underway in the region. 
  • The resolution approved earlier this month calls on the city manager to develop and implement an academy program that includes training, childcare and other wraparound services, job placement and recruiting to remove barriers to entry for careers in infrastructure. 
  • “The academy will be the training hub that will ensure that programs are aligned or in harmony with each other and with in-demand skills and job sequencing, based on real-time needs identified by both job creators and job seekers,” Mayor Kirk Watson wrote in a newsletter about the initiative. “That will allow improved navigation from training to job placement.”

Dive Insight:

Among the major infrastructure jobs in the Austin region are the $5 billion expansion of I-35 near San Antonio and the Austin Airport improvement project, estimated to cost $6.5 billion over the next 20 years.

An October study indicated that the number of mobility and infrastructure projects near the capital city would double in the near future, indicating the need for 10,000 more new jobs per year in those industries. 

“The Infrastructure Academy provides a solution and a path to delivering opportunities for Austinites to take pride in good-paying, long-term, meaningful careers that will allow them to afford to live and work in their communities,” said Scott Haywood, central division president for Kansas City, Missouri-based civil engineering firm HNTB and a member of Watson’s workforce leadership council.

The resolution doesn’t contain any dollar amounts or funding information, and a specific time frame has not yet been announced for the creation of the program.

Recruiting hurdles

Among the biggest hiring struggles for contractors is the shallow pool of skilled and experienced workers — and as major projects compete for that limited number, contractors struggle to find workers with enough experience. 

At the same time, the academy will seek to address concerns over transportation and childcare, two major barriers to entry for workers, said Karen Campbell, vice president and Austin metro executive for Dallas-based AECOM, and another member of Watson’s workforce leadership council.

“I think a lot of folks are having trouble getting into this workforce because of expensive childcare,” Campbell said, adding that her testimony to the city council contributed to the inclusion of childcare in the academy’s creation. “I don’t know the details of what that will look like, but I do know it was adjusted from the original resolution to get childcare in there.”

Creativity in education and outreach will be key to bringing new people into the workforce, Campbell said, as Austin also has to compete with San Antonio, Dallas and many other nearby metros in dire need of tradesworkers.

“Some things are just done because they’ve always been done, rather than adjusting for the workforce today,” Campbell said.

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