Monday, July 28, 2008

Mainers with technical skills win

It’s time to get technical! Mainers with technical skills, from mechanics to welders to machinists, may be in short supply.

In its annual survey of U.S. employers, Manpower found that jobs requiring specialized skills and experience are the most difficult to fill.

The 2008 Top 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill List looks like this:

1. Engineers
2. Machinists/Machine Operators (10)*
3. Skilled Trades
4. Technicians (4)
5. Sales Representatives (1)
6. Accounting & Finance Staff (8)
7. Mechanics (3)
8. Laborers (9)
9. IT Staff
10. Production Operators
*Rank in 2007 Top 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill

Maine employers and labor market analysts anticipate that the strong demand for what are traditionally hands-on jobs will continue into the foreseeable future. That’s because the U.S.(and Maine in particular) is experiencing what experts call a perfect storm in which trends related to demographics and skills deficits are converging.

Let’s start with the demographics: our population is aging. As the nation’s 76 million Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) leave the workforce, not enough younger people are choosing careers that involve technical skills.

Maine employers require job-specific skills (for example, welding or machinist skills), but they also demand soft skills, like problem solving and communications, plus a strong work ethic and culture traits that fit their company. Unfortunately, Maine employers often find that soft skills, work ethic and culture traits aren’t always present in today’s job candidates.

How can employers – and job-seekers – win in this contemporary world of work?

Progressive Maine employers are looking at short-term and long-term strategies. For the short-term, they are encouraging their current workforce to re-skill and up-skill to stay abreast of changing technologies – and a competitive, global marketplace. These employers are also looking to bring a diverse pool of people into the workforce, including youth, mature workers, women, people of color and people with disabilities. Attracting and keeping this diverse workforce means providing flexibility in work hours and benefits as well as developing a workplace environment that fosters respect among people with different backgrounds.

For the long-term, these employers are developing close partnerships with schools to make sure young people are getting the technical skills, as well as the soft skills, they need for 21st century jobs. They’re opening their doors to internships, job-shadowing and, where appropriate, apprenticeships. All of these are meaningful activities that can give young people a true taste of workplace requirements and help prepare them for employment in Maine’s future workforce.

Job-seekers can get a leg up in today’s talent race by keeping their skills up to date or perhaps switching careers. The contemporary world of work is a challenging place, but Maine employers and job-seekers who pay attention and take action will be the winners.

Green energy options may provide niche for Maine's community colleges

The Associated Press ran a story by Blake Nicholson on how community colleges are recognizing the growing demand for wind techs, and other jobs tied to wind power. The article, which was picked up by the Lewiston Sun Journal highlights the rapid growth of wind turbines, with 10 new towers popping up every day.

In the article, Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association is quoted as saying that “the demand (for wind technicians) is such that some (colleges) have been trying to keep companies away from the program because they want everybody to graduate first.” She goes on to add that “In some cases, students are being picked up after only a couple of months.”

Related to this article, there is a demand experienced by CAP agencies in Maine for certified energy auditors, to provide audits to home owners, not to mention an additional need for building envelope technicians to provide weatherization services for homes that are experiencing energy loss.

Dwaine Higgins, who graduated from a wind tech program at Iowa Lakes Community College is enthusiastic about his options.

"The job outlook in the wind industry is virtually unlimited," he said.

In Central/Western Maine, we are in the early stages of exploring this avenue to determine how best to address this perceived need centered around energy issues. More information will be posted here, as it becomes available.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Waterville wraps up another successful MIFF

I’ve been meaning to get this post up all week, but things have been hectic, so here I am, wrapping up work on a Friday afternoon, and I’m just getting a chance to send a “shout out” to the good folks in Waterville. For the eleventh year, the Kennebec County city has hosted one of Maine’s only local film festivals.

Each year, I’ve wanted to attend, but the busyness of summer, as well as the 50+ mile drive, and the fact that my hometown, Lisbon Falls, has the Moxie Festival, which corresponds with the launch of MIFF in Waterville, has kept me from experiencing one of Maine’s seasonal gems. This summer, despite feeling a bit harried from launching a book at Moxie the previous Saturday, my wife and I made the trek to Waterville. We were glad we did.

Not only was the movie, Skills Like This, a hilarious treat, but this was the first time I’d attended an event at the historic Waterville Opera House.

We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and afterwards, we headed across Main Street, to the Midnight Blues Club, for some adult beverages, and some tasty blues outside, on the patio.

My wife, who works in greater-Portland, Maine’s cultural Mecca, was impressed by the vitality of downtown Waterville. I’m sure others from outside the area have had similar experiences, being pleasantly surprised by the great vibe that the downtown area has.

Unbeknownst to us, earlier in the day, the area had hosted its 39th annual Intown Arts Festival.

I wanted to give kudos to Shannon Haines, for her efforts with Waterville Main Street. The Main Street Maine program, an initiative promoted by the Maine Development Foundation, has been instrumental in revitalizing downtowns across the state, including Waterville’s. Directors, like Ms. Haines, bring energy, and passion for historic downtowns that were once the lifeblood of communities across the state, and I believe, will once again be focal points, and economic drivers of the state's prosperity.

From my own experiences, I see Waterville headed in the right direction, and appears to be on the cusp of bigger and better things.

Here are some tangible ways you can support the development and revitalization of downtowns in Maine, and elsewhere.

Community colleges play increasingly important role

Once the neglected step-child of post-secondary education, community colleges have acquired a new, and arguably, important status, as centers of preparation for the 21st century world of work.

USA Today has been running a series on the role community colleges play in preparing the U.S. workforce, particularly when it comes to preparing students for jobs that will be in high demand over the coming decade.

From the article,

Now, community college leaders insist that their institutions, created to serve their local communities, have grown even more important on a larger stage. If the USA wants to keep pace with other industrialized nations, studies show, more of its workforce will need to be educated, including those who have traditionally been left behind by higher education: low-income students, working adults, underserved minorities and those who need remedial help before college. Community colleges, which were founded on the very notion that anybody who wants an education ought to be able to get one, are positioned to serve those populations, advocates say.

Enrollment at Maine’s community colleges have experienced a noticeable uptick, which bodes well for the state’s future.

You can read the most recent article from USA Today, here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

College degrees no longer guarantee rising paychecks

In Maine, there has been an increasing push towards ensuring that every high school graduate go on to a four-year college. While there was a time when data fully supported that premise, no longer is that the case.

The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip wrote about this on Thursday. He cites government statistical snapshots, showing the typical worker with a bachelor's degree saw his wages decline 1.7 percent in 2006, compared 2001 levels, when adjusted for inflation.

Ip's article contends that college graduates no longer are seeing automatic bumps in income, based upon attaining their college degrees.

Rather, as I've written about in this space, it's more important to target post-secondary training to jobs and occupations where growth is expected. Additionally, it's important for career professionals to steer students towards occupations and careers that capture their skill orientations.

Still, a great deal of effort, as well as funding continues to be targeted in the direction of pushing most students into the four-year option. Sadly, many will graduate, and be ill-prepared for the workforce that awaits them. Worse, their wages won't warrant the time, nor student debt they assumed acquiring a degree that continues to shrink in value.

Here is a link to the online Journal and statistics supporting Ip's claims.

Additionally, Harvard professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz have a book out delving into the historical analysis of educational attainment and the wage structure in the United States through the twentieth century.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Windmill tilt

If there's one subject that gets Mainers energized, and in the political mood, it's taxes. Take for instance The Fed Up With Taxes Campaign. This group, with funding provided by the beer and wine industry, beverage and soft drink associations, as well as Coca-Cola Bottling, is far from the "people's veto" that proponents are calling it.

Campaigns like this one get most of our legislative body all excited. Send these same folks workforce related proposals, and they couldn't be bothered to respond, or think creatively about how to boost economic opportunities in the state. Low-wage jobs, filled by low-skill workers will never move our state beyond the sometimes feudal (and often, futile) economy that makes up large portions of rural Maine. Fortunately for some areas, there are people aware of these needs and they're fashioning something proactive to address the issue.

My take on all of this is that while no one likes taxes, our state's overriding problem is a revenue issue. Increase revenue, by creating living wage jobs, like the kind that alternative energy has the potential to create, and beverage and snack taxes won't seem so important. Instead, like a one-trick pony, the state's anti-tax crusaders keep tilting at the same windmill.

Speaking of windmills, the state of Texas increased its already formidable national lead in wind power by clearing the way Thursday for a major expansion of the state's electrical power transmission network, valued at nearly $5 billion, a move that will triple its current wind power capacity.

The decision consolidates Texas as "the epicenter of land-based wind energy development in North America, if not the world," said Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman in a statement.

Texas is addressing challenges, and looking to get out in front on the energy issue, something that I've proposed that Maine do. Instead, our leadership prefers to collect petition signatures, rather than find ways to help Mainers offset escalating fuel prices.

FMI information about wind's potential as a key alternative power source, and its potential to help diversify our energy mix, not to mention an economic driver, check out the Department of Energy's report on this.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Workplace savings

The Wall Street Journal's Katherine Meyer maintains "The Juggle" blog (requires subscription), about the tradefoffs made by workers juggling work and family. Today, she had a post about eating at your desk.

Meyer writes,

Workers looking to save a few bucks in the down economy have found a new place to cut costs: lunch, according to an article in today’s Journal. Rather than fork over $75-$80 a week on fancy salads and take-out, employees are making their own sandwiches and opting to eat at their desks rather than find a table at the local bistro.

And while brown bagging can save a bundle on food costs, it can also save time. One executive in the article notes that bringing in his lunch has resulted in savings of about $50 a week, and has also made him more productive. “Instead of going out for an hour, walking to the place and waiting on line, I can basically eat in 10 to 15 minutes and catch up on some news,” he says.

Eating at one's desk, carpooling, or biking to work, Americans are looking for ways to cut costs anyplace they can.

Certainly, brown-bagging it can save you money, as well as being healthier (depending what you pack). It also can boost productivity (or give you time to put up a blog post of your own).

Less rhetoric, more action on energy

Congress should follow President Bush’s lead in opening up the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration and seek other non-partisan solutions the nation’s urgent and substantial energy needs, an oil industry veteran tells CNBC.

“It’s an American problem,” said John Hoffmeister, former CEO and president of Shell Oil's US operations, adding that the powers that be in Washington need to “quit the rhetoric and get on to solutions.”

Hoffmeister’s endorsement of the president’s decision to lift the existing executive order barring activity in the area known as OCS comes amid heightened debate about how the US will satisfy its energy demand as crude oil and gasoline prices continue their seemingly endless ascent.

In his public comments Monday, Pres. Bush said the OSC is capable of producing ten years of oil, based on existing US output, which currently represents about one-third of the 21 million barrels of oil the nation consumes daily.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Energy solutions arrive from the private sector

Get ready, America, T. Boone Pickens is coming to your living room.

The legendary Texas oilman, corporate raider, shareholder-rights crusader, philanthropist and deep-pocketed moneyman for conservative politicians and causes, wants to drive the USA's political and economic agenda.
"We're paying $700 billion a year for foreign oil. It's breaking us as a nation, and I want to elevate that question to the presidential debate, to make it the No. 1 issue of the campaign this year," Pickens says.

Today, Pickens will take the wraps off what he's calling the Pickens Plan for cutting the USA's demand for foreign oil by more than a third in less than a decade. To promote it, he is bankrolling what his aides say will be the biggest public policy ad campaign ever. The website,, goes live today.

Jay Rosser, Pickens' ever-present public relations man, promises that Pickens' face will be seen on Americans' televisions this fall almost as frequently as John McCain's and Barack Obama's.

You can read the rest of the USA Today article here.

Interestingly, the two candidates for president have been generating more than their own share of wind about so-called "green jobs."

In a link from Work Wonk by Richard Steubi (Cleantech Blog), the author lends some clarification as to just how many "green collar" jobs will be created in the mad rush to be seen as the greener of the two candidates.

Steubi believes there are benefits and jobs that can come from energy efficiency retrofits, solar panel installations, alternative energy conversions, etc, he's just not so sure the overall scope and number; as he writes, “It’s likely to be a very big number, but no-one can possibly quantify it with any degree of rigor.”

While getting out in front of the energy issue is important for rural states like Maine, it's important that we don't buy into much of the smoke being passed by politicians.

Monday, July 7, 2008

More generational talk

The generational divide in the workplace is a popular topic. In our area, Manpower has developed a compelling presentation about the war between Boomers and Gen Y, which I noted in an earlier post.

Along comes a new book, covering similar ground, methinks. The first chapter from Cam Marston’s new book, Motivating the "What’s in it for Me?” Workforce, has been excerpted in Maine’s purple paper, The Employment Times.

As a Boomer, and a Type-A, I struggle sometimes understanding my own son’s more casual approach to work. While I see value in working above and beyond what’s expected (with hope for some future payoff, which might, or might not materialize), his generation, the Millenials (as well as Gen X’ers) have a much different goals and expectations around work. No matter how much cajoling I do, or sage advice I offer, he's not going to alter his way of doing things.

I plan on picking up a copy of the book, just to see if Marston offers some new insight on how to mesh the generations in the workplace. I’m also curious about ways to better motivate, and also, how to retain younger workers in our state’s workforce, as it continues to age.

I’ve linked a prior interview with Marston about his book here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eat Maine tomatoes

The front page story in today’s Wall Street Journal, above the fold, details the escalating anger and frustration over the salmonella outbreak affecting tomatoes sold in the U.S. Now more than 11 weeks into the outbreak, the WSJ reports that this has cost the food industry at least $100 million, on top of battling rising commodity prices.

Apparently, this is causing anger among farmers, distributors, and others affected by declining sales of tomatoes. Regulators still haven’t pinpointed a region, or even a country, where the outbreak originated. Worse, the CDC is saying that tomatoes might not even be to blame.

In much the same way that the escalating price of oil makes regionalization more attractive, considering regional supply networks for our food is important.

Last night, I had tomatoes on my salad because they were grown by Backyard Farms, in Madison. In fact, after having toured their facility this winter (and documenting it), their Backyard Beauties have become my tomato of choice.

Since agriculture is a wealth-producing sector, one of only three (the other two being manufacturing, and mining/extraction), it might be time to ramp up similar facilities in rural parts of Maine. Backyard Farms has aggressive plans for growing their operation.

I think their model offers potential for the future, in providing meaningful work for some of the state’s workforce.