Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog
Roads in Southeast Michigan and other areas of the state are in desperate need of repairs. The need moves beyond filling a few potholes to a full-scale overhaul of major roads that have had patch jobs done for years but, due to dwindling infrastructure funds, have not received the full attention required.
For several years now, Michigan businesses have been calling for increased taxes to pay for road infrastructure. Why would firms and organizations, like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, assume the counterintuitive role of calling for taxes that could raise the direct cost of business? Because bad roads mean fewer investments in the state and more difficult logistics for all businesses, which costs more money than fixing the roads.
But, this is NOT just a funding problem. With so many years of disinvestment in road infrastructure, the workforce needed to rebuild Southeast Michigan’s roads is has shrunk nearly 30 percent, from more than 81,000 workers in 2001 to 58,000 today. From the graphic below it is clear that the recession in 2009 was preceded by more than a decade of decline in the road infrastructure workforce.
What’s more, construction-related employment is expected to fall even further in the next five years according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and EMSI. While some may argue that there are many workers “on the bench” waiting to fill anticipated jobs, others point out that many of these workers are at or nearing retirement and are hesitant to fill critical positions. As things stand now, the region does not have the labor force ready to work on highly anticipated road and other major infrastructure projects, even if the state legislature takes action to re-invest in roads.
The question is, how many more workers do we need and in what occupations?
Michigan’s transportation fund revenues last peaked in 2004. Using this year as a benchmark, WIN examined the availability of construction talent, which was around 76,000 workers. This means Southeast Michigan needs to add another 18,000 to the current 58,000 to get to the same employment levels as 2004. But what specific types of workers are needed?
Data from Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. show that the majority of need is for construction supervisors, construction laborers, managers, pipefitters, welders, operating engineers, and masons. Assuming that construction work building roads uses similar technology to 2004, then Southeast Michigan infrastructure companies have their work cut out for themselves to find the talent necessary for the state’s potential new road investment.
What would it take to get Michigan’s road infrastructure workforce up to the level necessary to complete the upcoming work?
The majority of the occupations in road construction do not require a college degree. Most require a high school education and an apprenticeship or on the job training. On top of this, the median wage for construction workers in Southeast Michigan is $19.50 an hour. That translates to $40,560 a year/ Information like this, when coupled with direct links to necessary training can help today’s high school students, unemployed workers, and others to get into what is sure to be a high demand field.
This blog post was prepared with research and content from Colby Spencer-Cesaro, Director for Research, Workforce Intelligence Network.