A letter from Joe Quinn, AGRF Executive Director
We are now almost two and a half years removed from March of 2020, when Covid arrived, and life changed overnight. Most of us have now stopped wearing masks, and many people are back to going to an office every morning, but some things are simply different than they used to be. Some aspects of American life will never be quite the same.
Near the top of this list, I would put workforce issues. More people are still in some fashion working from home, many simply did not return to the workforce, and skilled labor is at a premium in all sectors of the economy. This is as much an issue in the Arkansas highway and road building world as it is anywhere.
One thing we try to do with this magazine is to step back occasionally and take a deeper look at some of the issues impacting Good Roads members. This month, we are focused on labor and workforce challenges facing the trucking industry, engineering firms, road contractors, and all the smaller businesses that supply larger infrastructure-related operations.
There are a couple of things right now that are indisputable: everyone is paying higher wages than they did three years ago, and everyone is struggling to find the talent they need to do the work. It does not matter if a road construction company puts together a great proposal and wins a complex bid if that company doesn’t have the people needed to fulfill the work promised in the contract.
The good news is that across the business community, there is a much greater awareness that comprehensive workforce development programs are more important than ever. We cannot give employers or potential employees what they need if we don’t involve school districts in how to better prepare young people for the day after graduation.
We finally stopped telling every young person that they need to go to a four-year college, so now let’s work together to provide them with knowledge about where and how to look for high-paying infrastructure or manufacturing jobs. Many jobs can be promoted on websites and through social media, but young people are not going to find a website with job opportunities if they don’t know where it is and how to find it.
Years ago, I learned something valuable from one of the smartest people I ever worked for. He would close meetings and conversations by saying, “What are you most worried about right now? What part of your job is the biggest challenge?”