Eno President and CEO: Comments to the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council

This article is a transcript of comments made by Eno’s President and CEO, Robert Puentes, to the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council. 

Good afternoon Madam Chairman, Madam Vice-Chair, Members of the Council. My name is Robert Puentes, and I am President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon about this important work.

Throughout its 100-year history, the Eno Center for Transportation has always maintained a sharp focus on the challenges and opportunities with the transportation workforce, and for good reason. It is estimated that more than 14 million jobs—about 11 percent of civilian jobs in the United States—are infrastructure-related with most of them in transportation. The workforce pipeline spans a multitude of professions from pilots and truck drivers to autoworkers and engineers. What’s more, due to industry growth and the promise of additional federal spending, transportation has the potential to be a major American job creator, not just for new occupations but also for those needed to fill vacancies.

However, poor, dispersed, and limited training opportunities and few workforce pipelines tend to divert prospective transportation workers away from the sector. Women, for example, comprise 47 percent of the American workforce but continue to be highly underrepresented throughout the transportation industry, comprising only 15 percent of transportation and material moving occupations, and only 4.6 percent of commercial truck drivers are women.  The public transit (35 percent) and aviation (34 percent) sectors have relatively higher shares of women employees, yet still significantly lower than national average.

There are also stark race and ethnic disparities. For the transportation construction industry alone, African Americans comprised only 6 percent and African American women comprised less than 3 percent. By contrast, Latinos have a strong presence in the sector, though they are highlight concentrated in jobs that pay below the median wage.

This also matters today because certain transportation sectors are already facing serious workforce shortfalls which I believe does pose a serious risk to our national security. For example, according to a report by the Transportation Learning Center half of the industry’s current workforce will be retiring within 10 years. Much is written about the shortage of drivers in the trucking and logistics sectors but similar challenges exist in public transit and construction.

Furthermore, the types of jobs and skills needed are evolving. With increased automation and other technological transformations jobs in the transportation sector are likely to change. Workforce strategies are urgently needed to meet critical staffing needs and develop and train the current workforce.

The NIAC draft report astutely diagnoses the problem: that that the workforce development system in the United States needs better coordination, data, and strategic human capital management in order to address this security risk. I strongly endorse the findings and recommendations in the draft report, especially the critical need for a national workforce policy for our critical infrastructure sectors. Recent Eno work found, as did the NIAC, that the transportation workforce strategies that do exist are highly decentralized with no national standards for operations, planning, or programming.

This is not necessarily a criticism because there is tremendous variation in the transportation workforce needs across the country. However, it means there is little documentation of best practices, making it difficult to know what innovation can be transferred from place to place. The report’s recommendation to share best practices sounds obvious, but it is particularly important given the insatiable demand from agencies and places to learn from one another.

Importantly, all this should not be an ephemeral exercise. Policymakers often frame infrastructure spending as a way to promote short-term job creation. Yet our infrastructure workforce challenges are deep-seated and demand a long-term commitment. The recommendations in the NIAC report are a first step in that task.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

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