Op-Ed: Building Infrastructure Requires Skilled Employees

Honoring Civilization’s Workforce on Labor Day

By Tom Butler

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As you take a well-deserved break from our challenging economy this Labor Day, take a few moments and give thanks for those businesses and their employees who make our national infrastructure possible.

Without the 575,000 employees responsible for our nation’s infrastructure construction projects, America would not have clean water, nor the ability to carry away wastewater and safely treat it for return to the environment. We would find it near-impossible to easily move products and goods from one side of this nation to the other. We would not have the connected web of underground cables necessary to make our virtual meetings—or the Internet itself—possible today, nor be able to deliver electric power to millions of American homes.  

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Those 575,000 employees literally build the infrastructure that is so often taken for granted. Our industry figuratively enables our civilization’s real possibilities.

My company and the other 19,000 businesses in the American utility construction industry keeps this hidden labyrinth of industry and economic viability in working order. Every year, our men and women perform about $152 billion worth of construction work on these vital structures to install, maintain, upgrade, or repair it—but sadly, we are still falling short.

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Last year, Congress and the Administration recognized the long-building shortfall in our nation’s infrastructure. The $1.2 trillion core infrastructure bill promises to deliver billions each year, over the next five years, to repair our highways, ports, airports, water and wastewater systems, and broadband networks. My industry will require skilled and unskilled men and women to perform the hundreds of tasks required to complete the work safely and satisfactorily. Unfortunately, this need uncovers our greater shortfall.

In the U.S. construction industry alone, today there are 334,000 unfilled positions. Our utility construction companies offer great wages, health and retirement benefits, plus on-the-job training, and the satisfaction of literally building one’s local community. I can attest it’s a great job and career, and I’m thankful our men and women do this work each day. If you’re interested, we welcome you to find out more about this industry and what you can contribute to it today and throughout the coming decade.

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Labor Day is a day to thank the contributions utility construction employees make to ensure the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. Utility construction can sometimes be a dirty job, but we don’t mind. This vast network, much of it hidden underground, is the ultimate American community improvement project. Everyone has a stake in it.

“We Dig America” is not just the slogan my industry has used for decades to highlight our industry’s appreciation of this nation. It’s also what each of us believe and undertake in our daily labors throughout the year as we build our communities and the United States of America.

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Tom Butler is the senior estimator at Kimmins Contracting Corp., in Tampa, Florida, and is the vice-chairman of the National Utility Contractors Association, the trade association of America’s utility construction industry. This op-ed was submitted to the Tampa Bay Times. Tags: