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Biden infrastructure plan may deliver huge training boost

President Biden's $2T infrastructure plan will likely result in training programs for rapid reskilling, especially in the manufacturing sector.

Evolve Manufacturing Technologies Inc., in Fremont, Calif., is training 25 workers in manufacturing technologies thanks to a government-supported pilot program.

The trainees lost jobs in hospitality, retail and other sectors hit hard by COVID-19. The training program, which launched earlier this year, will take eight weeks and pays $18 an hour, including time spent on college-level instruction. The program uses federal dollars, and if President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan wins approval, it's the type of training program that may see rapid growth. 

Matt Pawluk, senior director of operations at medical device maker Evolve, said the potential impact of the infrastructure plan on workforce training is "honestly, huge."

Matt PawlukMatt Pawluk

"I don't know why this wouldn't go nationwide," Pawluk said of the program. 

For participants, the training program may lead to jobs at Evolve or one of the other 900 manufacturing firms in Fremont. Manufacturing employs about 30,000 in Fremont alone, according to a city official. 

Among the trainees in the pilot program is a longtime server who became a production leader in a couple of weeks "because she had hustle like no one else," Pawluk said. The pilot program includes former bartenders who "were good at remembering recipes" and can apply those recall skills to manufacturing, as well as people who worked in nail salons who "are really good at [noticing] detail," he said. 

"We have all these people that have diverse backgrounds that were getting paid less when employed in the industry that fired them," Pawluk said. 

I don't know why this wouldn't go nationwide.
Matt PawlukSenior director of operations, Evolve Manufacturing Technologies Inc.

Putting aside the issue of how to fund this multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, Bhushan Sethi, joint global people and organization leader at PwC, said if this federal training help arrives, businesses "will be cheering from the rafters."

The Biden infrastructure plan has about $100 billion in total for workforce training. 

Sethi said CEOs have long complained of a skills gap, especially with the need to train around digital technologies and support clean energy, healthcare and infrastructure. Businesses will be facing a labor supply shortage as the economy reopens and there is a need for rapid deployment. "You need people to be really skilled," he said. 

More funding will expand job placements

"More funding means we can get more people into jobs, such as advanced manufacturing," said Tina Kapoor, Fremont's economic development manager. It also enables critical support services to workers, such as childcare and transportation. That helps to diversify the talent pipeline and "lowers the barrier of entry for those who have been hit hardest," she said. 

Evolve Manufacturing Technologies Inc shop floor.
The shop floor at Evolve Manufacturing Technologies.

Fremont calls its program Earn and Learn Fremont; it includes an occupational skills training program developed by Ohlone College, a community college in Fremont. Pilot program trainees will also get college credit and can continue their manufacturing skills training at Ohlone.

The city developed the program to help people impacted by COVID-19's economic disruptions but also to increase the supply of skilled for workers for the city's large manufacturing base. Federal funding was available through the federal pandemic recovery programs. The pilot program at Evolve continues through mid-April.  

The Biden infrastructure plan focuses on improving manual skills, and "that's where the biggest benefit is probably going to be felt," said Ravin Jesuthasan, global transformation leader at Mercer, a management consulting firm. 

Jesuthasan said the government plan might rapidly close a 20-year gap in skills training. There are strong examples of skills training programs, such as the one in Fremont, "but they're isolated, and they're very community-driven," he said. "We've not had a massive government-led program to address the skills side of the equation for decades," he said. 

Similarly, David Lewis, president and CEO at OperationsInc, an HR consulting firm in Norwalk, Conn., said the U.S. has lacked a formal education-business reskilling partnership, and the Biden infrastructure plan "could be what has been missing." 

Pushing a connection between business, colleges and even high schools will close the skills gap, Lewis said. 

"Students will come out more prepared and be more readily embraced by employers," Lewis said. "Employers will more easily and readily find ready-to-work new grads at all levels, shortening the learning curve, improving success rates on new hires and resulting in more productive businesses."

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