Surface transportation fund distribution strategies for workforce development and post-secondary education

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As states implement the IIJA, it will be essential to ensure that workers are equipped to successfully participate in the highway construction workforce and that education partners and the public workforce system understand employers’ talent needs.

The Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides historic levels of funding to states to implement a range of infrastructure projects, including critical upgrades to roads, bridges, and highways. Crucially, IIJA includes provisions that provide New flexibility for conservatives, workforce development and education policy makers To use funds from four Federal Highway Administration programs for talent development activities. These programs—originating in the American Surface Transportation Reform Act (FAST Act)—are the National Highway Performance Program, the Surface Transportation Mass Grant Program, the Highway Safety Improvement Program, and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. There is no limit to the amount of FAST Act funds that states may allocate to workforce development activities.

To help states allocate these funds to vocational and pre-vocational training programs, the National Best Practices Association (NGA) Center expanded its Policy Academy on Expanding Work-Based Learning and launched a new project effort with Connecticut, Idaho, North Carolina and Oregon. As part of this new initiative, these states received technical assistance and engaged in peer learning with the NGA Center from May 2022 to March 2023 as they developed strategies for investing FAST Act funds in registered professional training.

current state curricula

Because the IIJA does not provide dedicated funding or a legislative role for the public workforce system, equivalent dollars from the four surface transportation programs in the FAST Act provide one of the most reliable tools that states can use to develop a transportation workforce strategy. The approaches Oregon and Idaho have taken during their work with the NGA Center include replicable, evidence-based concepts.

In Oregon, a legislative mandate Sets out the terms under which the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) allocates FAST Act funds to the state’s highway construction workforce development program. Oregon offers a range of supports for workers pursuing a career in highway construction including child care subsidies, transportation assistance, work readiness supplies, and hardship assistance. a Program evaluation published by Portland State University In December 2022, the provision of these services was found to have a positive impact on program completion and retention as well as Oregon’s overall goal of diversifying its highway construction workforce.

The proposal developed by the Idaho Project team included several uses for the FAST Act funds. These uses centered around creating post-secondary trade programs in the transportation industry, purchasing equipment for training purposes and increasing the number of certified employees in heavy equipment operations and commercial driver licenses. Efforts to increase certification focus on residents who are in public colleges, correctional facilities for women and those who participate in youth and vocational training programs. In coordination with other state offices and agencies, Idaho has also begun developing a Human Capital Plan, which will serve as a tool for setting priorities such as communicating with stakeholders, addressing challenges, integrating apprenticeships and developing mechanisms for assessing progress.

Additional opportunities for conservatives to consider

The strategies Idaho and Oregon have implemented demonstrate best practices for leveraging FAST Workforce Development, Education, and Training Act funds as newly authorized by IIJA, but they are not the only opportunities the states might consider. Additional opportunities for governors to consider include:

  • Develop a strategy to make strategic investments. Governors and education/workforce development policymakers may consider developing a strategic plan or conducting a needs assessment to better understand demand and determine the path forward. This could take shape in the form of a human capital plan, which is encouraged but not required by the IIJA, and could guide transportation-related workforce investment decisions made by state transportation and labor departments.
  • Benefit from the efforts of current career paths. Referees may consider building on career and technical education strategies including dual credit, work-based learning, projects and career exploration to create connections related to vital careers in the transportation sector.
  • Providing data for program development and impact measurement. Judges can coordinate and share supply and demand data with regional post-secondary partners to drive the development and scaling of innovative programs and partnerships to meet emerging regional talent needs in the transportation sector.
  • Write down the terms under which FAST Act funds are spent on workforce development. Conservatives may consider executive action or supporting legislation that determines the level of support that workforce development activities receive from FAST Act funds and the types of workforce development activities that receive support.
  • Establish a formal inter-agency coordinating body. Conservatives may consider appointing a group of policymakers and stakeholders to implement or make recommendations for investing FAST Act funds in workforce and education initiatives.
  • Employer involvement. Conservatives might consider involving employers in the policy-making process or conducting a survey of employer partners to ensure that business perspectives are informed by investments in workforce development.
  • An invitation to the State Manpower Development Council. Governors may consider inviting business and government leaders appointed to the state Workforce Development Board to help determine funding allocations. These bodies, charged with setting the strategic vision for the state’s workforce development efforts and making policy recommendations to the governor, may leverage their existing functions and operations to implement strategic planning for the investment of FAST Act funds in workforce development.

As states implement the IIJA, it will be essential to ensure that workers are equipped to successfully participate in the highway construction workforce and that education partners and the public workforce system understand employers’ talent needs. States considering leveraging FAST Act funds to develop workforces in highway construction might look to strategies implemented in Idaho and Oregon as examples. The NGA Center will continue to work with governors and education and workforce development policymakers to develop strategies that make best use of IIJA funding, as well as identify other innovative approaches that states may see moving forward.

This article was developed by Charlie Schoenberger and Jack Porter, NGA Center for Best Practices. For more information about the governors’ workforce development efforts, please contact [email protected].