As construction contractors continue to grapple with a persistent shortage of skilled workers, a new report is recommending that the federal government step up its funding for workforce training programs. The report, released on June 13, was produced by the Associated General Contractors of America, Washington, D.C.-based think tank Progressive Policy Institute and construction software provider Procore.

The report says, “If the U.S. does not act now to ensure the nation’s workforce is prepared for open job opportunities, more Americans will be unqualified for work and employers will continue to struggle to find talent and remain competitive.”

It adds, "Yet policymakers continue to undervalue the importance of workforce development and instead prioritize investments in degree programs that often aren’t needed to get a good job.”

The report, “Building a Stronger Workforce," says there is a wide gap between federal spending on post-secondary aid for college and other degree programs and federal spending on workforce training and development for construction and other non-academic fields.

How Funds Are Divided 

According to the report, in 2022 total federal funding for post-secondary education was $139.5 billion. Of that, $111.3 billion, or about 80%, went for college scholarships, loans and other degree programs. Workforce education received $28.2 billion, or 20%. 

It lists several recommendations for addressing the problem. A prime item is increasing funds for federal workforce development programs "across the board." For example, the report says one possible starting point is doubling funds for the Perkins V and other career and technical programs.

The report also calls for having training programs be "heavily informed by employers" and focusing on "employer-centered partnerships." It also praises training programs underway in several states, including Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

But legislative action will be difficult to achieve this year on Capitol Hill, due to the compressed election-year calendar and partisan differences in Congress. And Republicans in particular have put a priority on holding down spending on non-defense discretionary programs, which include education and training.

AGC: 'Opportunities" for Hiking Funds

Still, AGC sees "two opportunities—albeit difficult" to increase workforce spending this year, says Brian Turmail, AGC vice president of public affairs and workforce.

One possible vehicle, Turmail says, is the government-wide fiscal year 2025 spending package—or packages—expected later this year. That measure would likely have a line-item for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act programs.

The other opportunity, Turmail says, is the reauthorization of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. That law aims to help job seekers to receive jobs, education, training and other support, according to the Dept. of Labor. The report adds that the law also helps employers hire and retain workers.

Turmail says AGC also will be pushing to expand the scope of the Pell grant program to include short-term job-training certificate programs. At present, Pell grants can be used only at two- or four-year colleges and universities.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) have introduced a bill to expand the grants to apply to job-training programs.