We’re Focused on Workforce Policy for the Engineering Industry

To the ACEC Community:

Workforce issues continue to dominate my conversations with our member firms, our state organization leaders, and my colleagues in related groups within the built environment. This isn’t surprising. A quick read of the ACEC Research Institute’s most recent Engineering Business Sentiment Survey paints the picture of a tight labor market, rising wages, and fierce competition to hire and retain talent.

Ninety percent of survey respondents report their firm has at least one opening, but the median number of open positions has increased from five last quarter to six.

That’s not all. Wages are rising across our industry. Respondents to our survey report that the average firm salary increase for new hires rose 10 percent over last year, although 20 percent of firms report salary increases for new employees above that amount. For existing employees, wages have increased 6 percent on average, with 26 percent of firms reporting increases of 10 percent or more.

With fourteen percent of engineering firms already seeing an increase in project work related to the bipartisan infrastructure bill and another 73 percent expecting to see an increase in the coming months, it is essential that we have the workforce necessary to do the work.

I want to provide some insight into our advocacy program for workforce development in Congress and lay out the general legislative playing field we are working with to benefit the engineering industry.

Congress is working on legislation right now that is one component of our larger workforce agenda. The America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (America COMPETES Act), which passed the House in February 2022, and the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which was approved by the Senate in July 2021, are aimed at bolstering domestic manufacturing capacity and technology research and development. These bills also feature provisions that will help the U.S. engineering industry remain competitive.

The America COMPETES Act and USICA include a variety of important STEM education programs that address the talent pipeline for engineering and other STEM professions, which is a critical public policy priority right now. We are particularly supportive of provisions that seek to improve the alignment of undergraduate and graduate STEM education with workforce needs.

ACEC also commends Congress for seeking to provide technical assistance, mentorship, and targeted outreach to institutions of higher education, including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and tribal colleges and universities (TCUs).

We are also encouraging lawmakers to consider the provisions of the STEM RESTART Act (H.R. 2784/S. 1297), bipartisan legislation to establish a new national program to support mid-career workers in reentering the STEM workforce, including workers from underrepresented or rural populations, by awarding grants to certain small and medium-sized businesses to assist such workers in reentering the workforce at positions above entry-level.

House and Senate negotiators are working to finalize a compromise bill this summer, which is a top priority for the Biden Administration and ACEC.

We’re also working on additional elements of our workforce agenda, including pushing for more fixed-fee contracts with State DOTs to give firms the flexibility to manage salaries and other expenses, as well as more H-1B visas to make it easier for the best and brightest engineering talent from around the world to work here. These initiatives, together with long-term investments in STEM education, will help us to improve the talent pipeline.