Recruiting and training to build transportation infrastructure as a “Sansdemic” looms

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This week on the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a conversation with two people deeply involved with recruiting, developing and training the infrastructure-building workforce.

Even before the pandemic-induced phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, employers in many sectors were struggling to find and retain employees. This certainly applies to the skilled trades.

First, James Fults, who manages MDOT’s workforce programs and recruitment unit, talks about efforts specific to department jobs. Later, Lee Graham, the executive director of the Labor-Management Education Committee for Operating Engineers 324 (OE324), who have been building in Michigan for more than 100 years, talks about their work.

President Biden put a spotlight on the OE 324 training center when he visited earlier this month.

Fults explains his unit’s work is mostly focused on five general job categories that have been challenging to fill: transportation maintenance workers, mid-level engineers, technicians, electricians, and surveyors. Acknowledging that the pandemic exacerbated a talent shortage that already existed, he attributes much of the problem to a dearth of younger workers to fill the jobs of retiring baby boomers, a phenomenon now knows as the Sansdemic.

Fults also touts his unit’s other programs, including the Transportation Diversity Recruitment Program, highlighted in the July 28 podcast.

Later, Graham talks about his organization’s years-long efforts in workforce development and training and the focus on expanding opportunities through programs like Access for All and the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund.

Speaking about President Biden’s visit to the training center, Graham outlines why he thinks the bipartisan infrastructure legislation is so important to Michigan.

Graham and OE 324 talk to students as young as kindergarteners to develop an interest in construction and modern building equipment and technology.

Graham highlights the Operating Engineers work, on both sides of the border, to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge. He also talks about other high-profile structures, including stadiums, arenas, and downtown high rises, his members helped build.

A stationary engineer offers a testimonial in this One OE 324 member profile video.
Podcast photo: President Biden visited the Operating Engineers 324 training center in Livingston County on Oct. 5, 2021.

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