On November 15th, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA). The IIJA is an investment in America’s infrastructure that will provide $550 billion in new investments in addition to $423 billion in reauthorizations for infrastructure spending over five years. The IIJA holds the potential to create millions of jobs over the coming years and create new opportunities for people who are sidelined and unable to connect to meaningful work. Its funding will generate new jobs in industries critical to keeping the nation’s public works system running. But who will do the work?
New investment and job creation drive the need for additional investment in workforce development, some centered around equity. The IIJA does not explicitly promote equity. Despite President Biden’s January 2021 Executive Order establishing that “the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.” Nonetheless, SLTTs and their nonprofit partners have an opportunity to make equity a priority.
Some cities, counties, and states are taking or have already taken various steps towards addressing racial and socioeconomic disparities in their workforce. The following examples at the state, county, and city levels of government highlight the variety of approaches that work towards a similar goal.
In 2020, through its Workforce Development Council (WDC), Colorado established a Talent Equity Agenda to target resources, raise awareness, share strategies and measure the results of these activities. The public-private partnership’s vision “is that every Colorado employer has access to a skilled workforce and every Coloradan has the opportunity for meaningful employment, resulting in individual and statewide economic prosperity.” They hope to further these goals by their racial disparity ranking components through data and supporting partner organizations. Stakeholder forums in March of 2021 allowed partner organizations to demonstrate their efforts towards addressing the Talent Equity Agenda’s strategies. The Colorado WDC held “additional technical assistance modules throughout the year to support organizations in moving to action with the Talent Equity Agenda.”
Milwaukee County took steps a year before the state of Colorado, declaring racism a public health crisis in 2019. As a part of their resolution, the county declared it would “Work to create an inclusive organization identifying specific activities to increase diversity across its workforce and in leadership positions.” Two years later, County Executive David Crowley is thinking “about the amount of women and people of color we [Milwaukee County] now have in leadership positions,” an area where he sees change occurring. The county is also taking actions beyond DEI in the workforce, specifically by using data-driven approaches to determine how to make investments in the community around equity disparities.
Cities can also lead the way regarding equity in the workforce. For example, Albuquerque Mayor, Tim Keller, established the Offices of Equity and Inclusion and Civil Rights in 2017 to advance the city’s efforts to create a more equitable ecosystem. Working with the city’s Economic Development Department and private-sector partners, they are reversing “disinvestment in underserved communities…and ensuring equitable opportunities” for the citizens of Albuquerque by supporting businesses and developing the workforce. In 2021, Albuquerque’s efforts resulted in two awards for Outstanding Diversity in an Organization from Albuquerque Business First’s Diverse Business Leader Awards.
Resources are available to SLTT governments to support their efforts. The National Governors Association publication, “Creating a More Equitable Workforce System: Opportunities for Governors and States” (August 2021), outlines the “right strategies to promote equity throughout the reemployment and workforce service delivery process.” They recommend steps highlighted in the above examples and others, such as “examine policies and procedures that may contribute to inequity and modify them to make programs more accessible.” In June 2021, the National Association of Counties held a webinar on ensuring workplace equity, focusing on the related challenge of displacement caused by the pandemic and technology.
The Center for Intergovernmental Partnerships will continue to monitor the implementation of the IIJA and workforce development.