JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As Missouri’s large Interstate 70 project gets underway, the labor industry says there aren’t enough trade workers to go around.
From construction to electricians, auto mechanics and heavy machine operators, industry experts said there’s a labor shortage.
Lawmakers from across the state took a field trip to a trade center Thursday to find out what the workforce needs are following historic infrastructure investments.
“One of the things that both sides agree on is that we have some real concerns about where the future of our workforce is going to come from,” recruitment and outreach specialist for the Missouri Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET) Mike Howard said.
“The other key thing I tell young people all the time is none of us are getting any younger. We have an aging workforce.”
You don’t have to be a Republican or Democrat to know there’s a trade worker shortage.
“We’ve kind of gotten behind the eight-ball as a nation when it comes to infrastructure and keeping it up to par and now, we’re going to pay the price because we haven’t kept our workforce up,” Rep. Adrian Plank, D-Columbia, said.
Plank was one of the handful of lawmakers who attended the town hall at the Laborers & Contractors Training Center in Montgomery County on Thursday.
He was joined by Rep. Louis Riggs, R-Hannibal, the chairman of the House Workforce and Infrastructure Development Committee, who is worried about the labor shortage with upcoming projects in the state following recent investments.
“I’m concerned that we don’t have enough in real time,” Riggs said Thursday. “I’m also concerned that we don’t have enough training to get out there. The workforce is changing underneath our feet. COVID accelerated a lot of things that were already taking place.”
Soon, the $2.8 billion I-70 project, adding an extra lane in both directions from Wentzville to Blue Springs, will be out for construction, which is concerning for the labor industry.
“That’s a lot of work for laborers, maybe years’ worth of work for us,” Howard said. “For so long, probably 10 to 15 years at least, we’ve told kids to go to college, and we haven’t done a good job of going out and recruiting and promoting the trades and specifically the laborer’s union as an option.”
Howard told lawmakers during the town hall the industry is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of about 4.8%. He said there’s money that’s been dedicated to this type of work, so now it’s about finding the people to get it done.
The group of bipartisan legislators who visited the training center spent the day touring the facility to see what students are learning and find out what recruiting efforts are underway.
“We are out there hitting the pavements, shaking all of the bushes, trying to tell our story to try to get young folks interested in the construction industry to bring them in,” director of Missouri LECET Scott Hughes said.
With aging infrastructure across the state and one of the largest highway system in the country, laborers are in need.
“We’ve got to incentivize apprenticeship programs, training facilities like this, just to keep up with our infrastructure issues,” Plank said.
“As a union carpenter, you can call our hall and there’s nobody available and so if there’s a contractor that needs more help, it’s just not there and that’s across the state and country.”
Riggs and other lawmakers say they are tasking themselves with finding ways to help the industry and Missouri’s workforce.
“It’s a huge investment in us, but at the same time, we need to invest back into the people to get them trained up where they can do that,” Riggs said.
“It’s the sewer lines, it’s the wastewater, it’s the treatment plants, plants that were built for 50 years of life that are now approaching 100. All this stuff needs to be replaced, and it’s going to take folks who are trained to do all of that.”
The state received a C- on a recent infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. That grade is up from the D+ Missouri received back in 2018.
The Show Me State currently is ranked third in the nation for apprenticeships. The Laborers and Contractors Training Center in High Hill offers multiple different apprenticeships.