The following Viewpoint is written by Carlo A. Scissura, president and chief executive of the New York Building Congress.

New York is in the early stages of its next building boom, with a $1.2-trillion boost from President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act. The Empire State’s share is finally beginning to make its way here, aimed at repairing aging roads and bridges, expanding transportation options, and providing broadband to previously underserved communities—among many other long-overdue projects that will fuel our post-pandemic recovery. 

But none of these efforts can succeed without one key element: A robust, and youngerworkforce. Efforts to attract the next generation of industry leaders are certainly underway, but with myriad large-scale projects on the horizon, more must be done, sooner than later. 

There is a vibrant, diverse, hungry cohort of young professionals out there who may have just the imagination needed to conjure up the next New York. 

Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of them going into design and construction. While 32% of workers currently employed in the New York City building industry are 50 or older, only 5% are under 25. And that 5% is down from three years ago. When the sky is literally the limit, what’s keeping this number so low? Too often, it’s a combined lack of opportunity and outreach. 

Step one is recruitment: Tell young professionals to look up… and around… and down! The fruits of architecture, construction and engineering trades are everywhere, evident to all and often awe-inspirinno one ever forgets the first time they emerge in Grand Central’s stunning main concourse. Not only that, public works can provide transformational access to opportunityjust look at the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and George Washington Bridge. When the Building Congress was founded in 1921, New York City had only two tunnels connecting it to New Jersey, and neither was designed to move people. Today, an estimated 400,000-plus Garden State residents commute to the city daily by rail, car, bus, or ferry. How much different would the tri-state region look today without the incredible foresight and can-do spirit it took to connect a couple of islands to mainland USA? 

That sense of inspiration should infuse every effort the industry makes to invest more in trade education, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion programs, workforce development, apprenticeships and internships.  

Many organizations have instituted their own programs aimed squarely at recruiting and retaining young professionals. At Suffolk Construction, for instance, the two-year Career Start program allows recent college graduates to complete rotations in estimating, project management and field operations. These young professionals have shown the potential to reinvigorate the industry with enthusiasm and perspective. Currently, 24-year-old participant Joshua Ojo is helping to build one of two new schools for KIPP Academy in the Bronx. It is not just an opportunity for him to get hands-on-training, but an opportunity for him to give back to his community: Ojo actually attended a KIPP Academy Middle School himself.  We need more passionate recent grads like Ojo ready to rebuild our city, and we need to find them fast.  

The best place to start is early on. To that end, The Laborers’ International Union of North America, an influential building industry union group, has operated pre-apprenticeship, high school-level construction craft laborer classes in other states for decades. The “LEARN” program haprovided hundreds of high school students the opportunity to begin high paying careers in the construction industrimmediately upon graduating from high school. Appreciating the unjudged truth that college is not for everyone (in fact, according to recent census data, just 42% of the building industry workforce has at least some college education) can lead tgreat career opportunities for our youth in the construction trades. It also allows for a more level playing field in recruitment, something desperately needed with women composing only 8% of the industry’s workforce.  

LIUNA is currently seeking state funding to bring its four-year pre-apprenticeship program to high schools across New York, and we urge legislators to provide necessary start-up funding.   

And speaking of legislation, recruitment obviously expands beyond just the industry itself. A handful of bills that would support critical workforce development measures across the state are currently stalled in Albany. Assembly Bill A823 would create the women and high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs grant program; A336 and S701 relate to the creation of strategic investment in workforce development; A2242 establishes the “retrain and employ unemployed persons program.” 

It is high time to start looking forward. Our current workforce laid the foundation for the greatest city in the world.  But now it’s time for them to fuel the next generation with the same passion that brought them to a jobsite for the first time. Young professionals are needed to sustain and build off of these successes, and carry the torch for the next great era of building.