If you live anywhere near Pittsburgh, you have likely navigated bumpy roads and closures, driven behind construction vehicles and questioned the surge in construction all year. 

As of November, 88 infrastructure projects had begun or continued in the Pittsburgh region this year, and 335 miles of roadway maintenance and paving had been completed, according to Steve Cowan, press officer at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation [PennDOT]. 

Why is all of this construction happening now? Philip Ameris, president and business manager of the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, said it is due to President Joe Biden’s year-old Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and it’s far from over. Construction workers and organizations alike have their work cut out for them.

Meeting the demand created by the infrastructure law

The act allocated $1 trillion to building and improving the country’s infrastructure, including its roads and bridges. It has spurred the largest construction boom Pennsylvania has seen in Ameris’ 29-year-career, and the resulting construction could continue for at least a decade.

The Associated Builders and Constructors trade organization estimates the industry nationally will need 590,000 new construction workers next year alone to meet the needs created by the bill.

To keep up with the demand for workers on construction projects, Ameris and others are recruiting workers through job fairs, trade schools and organizations. They are offering respectable wages, pensions and paid training to attract more people. 

Construction industry workers can look to make $37,000 to upward of $100,000 annually according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes and productivity.

Jeff Nobers, executive director for the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, said growing and maintaining construction manpower is a nationwide issue. Pennsylvania was not affected as much as other states, though, due to the Builders Guild’s long-term efforts to create a cooperative construction community, he said.  

“Fortunately, here in Southwestern Pennsylvania we have a very cooperative industry,” said Nobers. “We [the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania] have been able to, through cooperation and creative approaches, meet the needs and challenges of the projects in this region — the multi-billion dollar Shell cracker plant [which at one point had 8,500 construction workers] being a perfect example of that.” 

The infrastructure law will increase the need for construction workers, according to Nobers, so anyone looking for a job in the construction industry can start at LaborPA.org

Most construction apprenticeships pay trainees while they learn and the working hours in the industry are usually variable due to the weather and the construction process. 

Construction crews install new sewer lines along McPherson Boulevard on Nov. 2, 2022, in Point Breeze North. Pittsburgh saw an uptick in construction projects over the summer. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Work spurred by the infrastructure bill won’t stop any time soon. 

While the infrastructure bill focuses mainly on road maintenance and paving, related work like a $5 billion buildout of electric vehicle charging stations and a wave of commercial construction projects could follow.

Typically, it takes about four to five years to complete commercial construction projects, according to Jamey Koss, coordinator of capital projects and safety facilities management at Robert Morris University, who was also a union worker in construction for 10 years. Acquiring the funding and planning the project can each take about a year, followed by construction. 

Construction crews install new sewer lines along McPherson Boulevard on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Point Breeze North. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

A winter break for construction workers?

While construction slows in cold weather, it rarely stops. In winter 2021, around 93% of the U.S. construction workforce remained employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Laid-off workers were put on a hiring list that construction companies pull from if they need extra hands.  

Laid-off workers can re-enroll in training while they wait to be assigned to another project, but they typically will not see consistent work again until March or April. 

The seasonality of the work is why Koss left the construction industry, but he said it was not always a bad thing. “Sometimes I did look forward to some time off whenever we did get slow,” he said.

He also enjoyed the long-term benefits of the job. 

“There was a sense of pride whenever you finished a project in construction because you knew [your work] was going to be there for a long time,” said Koss. “I had a pension, I had great insurance [and] we had a great retirement plan.”

As the plans crafted by the new infrastructure law are put in motion, we will see this uptick in construction for a lot longer than anticipated, said Ameris.

According to him, what we are seeing now is only the beginning. 

Terryaun Bell is an editorial intern with PublicSource. 

This story was fact-checked by Ladimir Garcia. 

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Terryaun is a fact-checking intern at PublicSource. He is a Hopewell, Pa, native and a senior at Robert Morris University (RMU), studying for a bachelor's degree in communications with a journalism concentration...