Demand for construction workers has never been higher, but a new Saint Louis University study sponsored by the Transportation Equity Network (TEN) finds white men still dominate the construction workforce out of proportion to their share of the workforce.
The Road to Jobs: Patterns of Employment in the Construction Industry (press release here) looked at data from eighteen major metro areas. While researcher Dr. Todd Swanstrom found the share of Latinos has advanced and even surpasses their share of the overall population in some areas, they found 42,000 African-American workers "missing" from the construction workforce. Despite programs to train more women for these nontraditional careers, they still make up only about 6% of the construction workforce.
These findings are important for two reasons. First, construction is a high-paying field with good benefits. It offers a pathway to the middle class for people who may lack extensive education and training. It also offers paid on-the-job training through formal apprenticeship programs. Second, demand for construction workers is growing dramatically. The most recent BLS data estimated the industry will add at least one million new jobs between 2002-2012, placing it among the country's top ten sources of job growth. It's even been highlighted in the President's High Growth Job Training Initiative.
The Road to Jobs finds one key solution in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU Act, which authorized significant federal investments in transportation construction. The law allows states to use up to one-half of 1% of their federal highway funds for workforce development programs. TEN estimates this could generate up to $1.43 billion in programs to support apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, support services and other programs to bring more people of color and women into the workforce and meet labor demand.
The report describes successful workforce development regulations and programs in Los Angeles/Long Beach and Kansas City, MO. The Apprenticeship Opportunities Project at Port Jobs in Seattle is another example. TEN recommends making SAFETEA-LU's workforce provision mandatory, rather than optional for states.