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ND Labor Group: Federal Plans Can Help With Job-Recruitment Barriers

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021   

MANDAN, N.D. -- North Dakota has had nearly 18,000 job openings in recent months, with roughly 1,000 in construction.

A labor leader in the trades said federal legislation to boost infrastructure and social programs could help fill open positions now and in the future. From the already approved American Rescue Plan to the current Build Back Better proposal and the separate infrastructure bill, supporters say the investments could pay off in a variety of ways.

Jason Ehlert, president of North Dakota's Building Trades Unions, said there are opportunities to boost recruitment and training that might appeal to younger generations.

"We're trying to make that link between; there is education in construction," Ehlert explained. "You're just not gonna go to work every day, day in and day out, and just be kind of that grunt. There is education involved in the trades."

Specifically, he pointed out they are pursuing grants under the American Rescue Plan that could provide essential training for those hired to work on the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

As for plans being debated, the infrastructure bill has bipartisan support, but the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan faces pushback from GOP lawmakers and business groups who say it is too costly and could harm the economic rebound from the pandemic.

But Ehlert countered the budget reconciliation package addresses gaps in what he calls "wrap-around services" for industries such as construction. For example, he noted bigger investments in child care could allow more females to enter and stay in the field.

"We still always continue to work from that 7-to-4:30 workday, and if you don't have that child-care option, construction's not gonna be a viable career pathway," Ehlert contended.

The Council, which consists of 15 labor organizations around North Dakota, argued extra federal support could also help recruit within communities of color and reach out to Indigenous populations. Ehlert emphasized focusing on training can set new hires up for long-term success, while reducing safety risks as they start their construction careers.


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