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Workforce Considerations as Part of Municipal Infrastructure

In this week’s #WednesdayswithMDBInsight post Paul Blais, EVP looks at infrastructure through a workforce development lens.

Municipalities face a daunting range of infrastructure challenges that are vital to competitiveness, sustainability, quality of life, and community satisfaction. Everything from fixing roads and bridges to investments supporting new technology demand ongoing updates, maintenance, and prudent planning. Forward-thinking communities are also blending workforce development into their infrastructure portfolios, giving careful consideration to the skills that will be needed to carry out those updates and how to attract and retain workers capable of maintaining increasingly complex systems.

The skills and attributes necessary for successfully servicing municipal infrastructure assets are a vital element in overall workforce development planning. Just think of traffic flow systems in the coming age of autonomous vehicles, or the impact of “smart” home technology on building codes and safety systems. As with the future of work in general, the future of work within municipalities will require attention to current and emerging skills gaps. Coupled with the important role of municipalities in economic development, these workforce development priorities become increasingly critical. The workforce of the future, from a municipal perspective, begins to look like nothing short of an infrastructure investment.

Digital skills, systems thinking, interaction with robots and computers, and adaptability for roles and tasks that don’t yet exist will be essential in the municipal workforce mix just as they will be on the broader horizon. From predictive analytics and maintenance to cybersecurity and digital architecture, communities will require a skilled and resilient workforce to keep pace with the evolving nature of 21st century jobs. Smaller communities, in particular, are already facing skills gaps that will only widen without attentive planning and progressive strategies. Competing with larger centres for the workers they need, some of these municipalities are already investing in overarching workforce development plans to serve as an anchor for more granular, specific strategies (e.g. newcomer attraction and settlement, youth engagement and retention).

Increasingly, municipal partnerships with post-secondary institutions are at the forefront of efforts to address skills gaps through targeted programming, training curricula, apprenticeships, upskilling opportunities, and co-op placements. Private sector partners are also investing in these efforts, raising the stakes for municipalities seeking to benefit from their involvement through local workforce gains. Together with emerging interests in social procurement, these are relationships and investments of growing importance for municipal workforce development. In Hamilton, for example, the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Workforce Development was established in 2015 in response to “the interconnected and urgent issues of a serious shortage of skilled trades, and an aging workforce with limited succession plans” and was co-chaired by the Mayor and the President of Mohawk College. 

In the U.S., the Mayor of Dothan, Alabama has been touting workforce development and infrastructure as local priorities on the radio, and the Reno County Health Department in Kansas is busy implementing a workforce development plan. The National League of Cities has been part of vital conversations taking place across the country to focus discussions on finding solutions to local challenges, including workforce development in the context of infrastructure. They have pointed to examples like the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC) where workforce investments are top of mind:

From a workforce perspective, the SFPUC is suffering in the same way as many of the other public water utilities across the country. With 40-60 percent of their workforce expected to retire by 2027, as well as the need to grow their workforce, the SFPUC is keenly aware of the need to invest in the workforce pipeline to ensure that residents are recruited and trained to fill these critical positions that support the basic fabric of the community.

Thinking about infrastructure through a workforce development lens has gained traction in the private sector too. LNG Canada’s Trades Training Fund, part of the company’s Construction Workforce Program, is but one example of corporate infrastructure investment aimed at the skills gap issue. Talent in Transition: Addressing the Skills Mismatch in Ontario (2017, Ontario Chamber of Commerce) featured experiential learning prominently in its consideration of workforce issues. Incubators, accelerators and innovation hubs are among the experiential learning options being given substantial attention by municipalities across Canada.

Paul 2018-2To learn more about Paul and the other members of our team, go to https://mdbinsight.com/team-bios/

Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.

References:

City of Hamilton, The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Workforce Development – 2018 Progress Report (2018)

National League of Cities: https://citiesspeak.org/2018/05/17/water-infrastructure-and-workforce-development-supporting-the-bay-area/

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/car-automobile-3d-self-driving-4343635/

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