February 2023 Vol. 78 No. 2


Convention Preview: Workforce Development, Damage Prevention Are High on PCCA’s Agenda

Michael Ancell | PCCA 

(UI) — The Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA) entered 2023 focused on issues surrounding the influx of federal funds into the broadband and electric power markets, primarily finding a sufficient workforce, keeping the underground space safe and dealing with various stipulations placed upon the funding.

2022–23 PCCA Chairman Jerrod Henschel, Equix Inc.

PCCA also has two meetings planned for 2023 – the 78th Annual Convention in Miami, Fla., March 3–8, and the Mid-Year Meeting in Dana Point, Calif., Aug. 6-9. 

Workforce development 

PCCA has been addressing the industry’s shortage of workers in a variety of ways over the years. Most notably, it works with technical schools and community colleges to create utility construction programs. These include: State Technical College of Missouri, Terra State Community College (Ohio), Northwood Technical College (Wisc.), Monroe County Community College (Mich.), and Somerset Community College (Ky.). 

In addition, PCCA is working with the Wireless Infrastructure Association under a U.S. Department of Labor grant designed to support large-scale expansions of apprenticeship in the utility construction industry. Also, the association provides scholarships to students looking for careers in construction-related industries. 

The biggest challenge to workforce development is finding the workers, according to PCCA Chairman Jerrod Henschel, president & CEO of Equix Inc., in Fond du Lac, Wisc. 

“The simple fact is the birth rate in our country has been below sustainable levels since 1973, and this is showing itself in our workforce now more than ever. Every contractor I know of has unfilled positions, and I see this in many other industries as well,” he said. 

“Lack of labor is holding back economic growth. Meanwhile, there are millions of really good, hard-working people trying to enter this country that want an opportunity at the American dream. What’s been happening at the Mexican border is a travesty. 

“We need a balanced approach, control the border to prevent trafficking and all forms of illegal activity, while at the same time instituting real immigration reform that allows good, hard working people a legal way to enter the country, become taxpayers, and pursue their dreams.” 

As PCCA pursues the daunting task of immigration reform, the association has found a starting point and perhaps a legislator to champion the cause. Last year, Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.) and six of her Republican House colleagues introduced the Dignity Act, a complete immigration reform bill consisting of three core principles: stopping illegal immigration, providing a dignified solution for immigrants living in America, and strengthening the American workforce and economy. 

“Our broken immigration system is fracturing America – economically, morally, socially and politically,” said Salazar when introducing the Dignity Act. “While we are a nation of laws, we are also a nation of second chances. I’m grateful to my colleagues for joining me to keep the American Dream alive.” 

Her argument is that the Dignity proposal considers that the majority of the undocumented population may not be looking for a citizenship-or-nothing deal but would likely be content with the opportunity to live in the U.S. legally, work and pay taxes, have protection from deportation (for non-felons), and be able to travel to their country of origin and be with family for the holidays. 

It also recognizes that real border security and effective enforcement measures must be in place to ensure any fix would be a final one – never needed again. 

PCCA’s Government Affairs Committee is intrigued by the Dignity Act proposal and is excited that Rep. Salazar has accepted its invitation to attend the PCCA Convention in Miami in March to discuss immigration reform with members. 

Damage prevention 

PCCA is sharply focused on the safety of its workers, the public and all underground facilities. As America prepares for hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements, in virtually every subsurface market, damage prevention is fundamental. All stakeholders must ensure that their responsibilities are met. 

In 2021, PCCA was the driving force behind an independent study to exhaustively examine 811 operations in every state, see what is working and what is not, estimate costs and waste, and provide recommendations for improvement. 

The “811 Emergency” study found that “failures in the nation’s 811 system used to prevent damage to underground utility lines are costing $61 billion a year in waste and excess costs and creating unnecessary hazards for public safety, particularly in states where the implementation and accountability are most lax.” 

Released in November 2021 to considerable attention, much work was done in 2022 to update reports and to get states to consider and adopt the study’s recommendations. That work is ongoing. 

A top priority for PCCA is ensuring accurate mapping of underground facilities, and the association believes that electronic Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping should be required by facility operators and that the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) should develop a tool to access this data. 

The underground has become a spider’s web of utility networks, and accurate mapping of underground utility facilities has become a challenging and difficult task. GIS databases can be used to create, manage and analyze maps loaded with pertinent data related to underground facilities. 

GIS connects data to a map, integrating location data with a range of information regarding the subsurface facilities in that area, and it allows for layering of data tied to geographic points. Rather than restricting the user to limited features on a static map, GIS mapping allows for viewing customizable combinations of data layers in a single dynamic tool. 

“This is the single most meaningful thing that could be implemented to improve damage prevention” Henschel said. “We have the technology, and now we have to get all the utilities on board.” 

Funding with conditions 

While PCCA supported passage of the federal infrastructure law – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) – at the end of 2021, the association remains watchful of how the law is implemented and what requirements are attached to it by the Biden administration. 

PCCA government affairs representative Zack Perconti called the IIJA “the largest-ever investment in broadband infrastructure,” but he said that the funding presents some challenges as well, including unrealistic Buy American requirements, mandatory or highly encouraged project labor agreements, and continuing workforce issues. 

For example, President Biden’s Executive Order 14063 requires federal agencies to mandate project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects of $35 million or more. PCCA believes that mandating PLAs on broadband and electric system contracts involving federal dollars will slow projects and drive up costs. 

These industries are already facing monumental worker shortages and adding PLA requirements will further shrink the pool of available workers, resulting in much slower deployment of broadband buildouts and energy system upgrades. Added costs will also significantly reduce the number of projects ultimately put into service. 

PCCA also opposes a new Environmental Protection Agency rule, Revised Definition of Waters of the United States, released in December. 

“PCCA members across the country are working tirelessly to expand access to high-speed broadband, modernize and strengthen our nation’s electric grid, and provide the essential workforce for these and many other critical infrastructure projects,” the association said in a statement. “However, burdensome federal regulations and policies have slowed work and jeopardize the goals set by the Biden administration to achieve universal access to broadband and a modern electric grid within the next decade. 

“Instead of critical permitting reforms and similar regulatory updates, this decision rolls back positive changes made during the last administration. With a case affecting WOTUS regulations pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, this decision injects confusion into what should be a busy year of construction. PCCA urges the Biden administration to roll back this regulation as soon as possible and asks the new 118th Congress to make construction permitting reform a top priority.” 

Learn more at www.pccaweb.org or by following PCCA on LinkedIn, Facebook (@powerandcommunicationscontractorsassociation), Twitter (@PCCA_tweets), and Instagram (@powerandcommunication).

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