RIT awarded $2 million to prepare diverse workforce in the evolving transportation sector

Employment and technology partners will create workforce ecosystem as part of the national Building Pathways to Infrastructure initiative

Carlos Ortiz/RIT

Lu Sun will lead a major workforce training initiative sponsored by the Department of Labor that brings together academia, corporations, and regional job training agencies as part of “Investing in America” and its focus on improving facets of the transportation sector.

Rochester Institute of Technology was recently awarded $2 million as part of the Biden Administration’s “Investing in America” program to focus on creating jobs in the high-demand areas of infrastructure and transportation.

RIT is one of 34 national organizations, and only one of three in New York state, designated with funds through the U.S. Department of Labor-led “Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program.” The program works to improve U.S. competitiveness by developing a highly skilled workforce.

The university has become a significant contributor to several national initiatives related to workforce development providing both degree and high-tech training programs.

Under the Pathways program, RIT will coordinate the project that brings together multiple partners from academia, corporations, and training/workforce agencies in the Northeast, including the Washington, D.C., area. Organizations such as the New York, Virginia, and Maryland Workforce Development associations; Virginia DBE Transportation Association; the National Highway Institute; and the American Public Transportation Association, among other similar, regionally based organizations, are involved.

Contributions entail expertise primarily in workforce recruitment, training, and curriculum development to advance the transportation sector. Other related focus areas will include renewable energy sectors; broadband expansion and integration of smart city grids; and improvements to the in-demand skills of electrical, industrial, and civil engineering professionals who design, maintain, and modernize the infrastructure systems in the U.S.

Funding extends over five years and is intended to build a scalable, sustainable ecosystem that emphasizes the integration of new skills into the transportation and infrastructure workforce, said Lu Sun, professor in RIT’s College of Engineering Technology (CET) and principal investigator.

“We need to assess the current sector needs and provide the best training and resources. And all of this needs to part of a continual, evolving structure, because industry demands are changing, and because the nation needs a highly skilled workforce in the transportation sector,” said Sun, chair of CET’s civil engineering technology, environmental management and safety department and an expert in transportation engineering and smart city technologies.

As much as physical infrastructure improvements are needed in the U.S., an adequately skilled workforce to address these needs is essential, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Civil engineering and environmental management positions are expected to grow over the next 10 years due to retirements and employees exiting the workforce because of skill gaps.

Traditional structural projects are increasing alongside trending areas of alternative energy installations, use of eco-friendly materials and building modeling done through use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Today’s needs for infrastructure must also incorporate inter-connected technologies, community resilience due to climate change, and sustainable communities as populations grow.

“The government decided to invest and move forward with the infrastructure bill, and this funding facilitates that process,” said Sun. “No matter if an employee is unemployed or underemployed, we are trying to leverage their skill set by providing training that will benefit them and their employers who sometimes have to seek out training and hiring opportunities for the company. Building this pipeline and ecosystem will help speed the training process and meet the needs of the industry.”

The U.S. Department of Labor announced in late September the award of nearly $94 million in grants to support public-private partnerships to provide worker-centered sector strategy training programs in 25 states and the District of Columbia as part of “Investing in America.” 

The program will formally launch in mid-October with meetings of regional partners and all U.S. grantees led by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. The Biden Administration has made significant investments in several key areas: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the CHIPS & Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and The American Rescue Plan. All have included funds to support workforce development and economic recovery as well as infrastructure renewal initiatives, key factors in the U.S. workforce development portion of the BIL. RIT contributes to these initiatives as a lead or partner institution.

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