Sunday, August 31, 2008

Clarification on WCSH feature

Richard Riegal Burbank left the following comment at the prior post, about Building Envelope Technicians.

[I happened to catch this blog regarding my interview with Don Carrigan. I just wanted to clarify that I am not currently a certified building envelope technician. I currently hold a Building Analyst certification from BPI. No one in Maine currently is certified. The training our company is offering will lead to the first building envelope specialists to be certified in Maine. -Richard Riegal Burbank]

More info regarding the dire need for the workforce support needed (and the state recognizing this need) to build the infrastructure of efficiency can be found at Evergreen Building Science's blog.

Friday, August 29, 2008

State in dire need of energy professionals

With the price of home heating oil over $4/gallon, and winter just around the corner, energy efficiency has never been more important for Mainers.

WCSH reporter, Don Carrigan, featured a spot last night on Richard Burbank, of Evergreen Building Science, at a home in Thomaston, talking about the need for energy professionals in Maine.

Burbank was at the home of Paul Scalzone, a workforce colleague of mine. Scalzone has been helpful in getting me up to speed on the need that Maine has for professionals like Burbank, to perform the necessary work of tightening up the building envelope of homes and other buildings that have energy loss issues identified from the performance of an energy audit.

Recognizing the need for trained energy professionals, Burbank has embarked on creating his own training program, which will turn out Building Envelope Technicians. Individuals that complete Burbank's program will receive a national certification from the Building Performance Institute, and will be able to perform the kind of post-audit work that many homes and businesses in Maine need, to be energy efficient. According to Carrigan's report, Burbank is quoted as saying that there is $3 billion worth of work here in Maine, needing to be done. Additionally, Burbank claims that he is the only certified Building Envelope Technician in the state. Carrigan confirmed this information with Efficiency Maine.

Obviously, there is a pressing need to address this issue. Training programs are vital to getting energy auditors trained and into the field. After that, candidates need to be put through the BPI program to certify professionals to weatherize homes, and eliminate energy losses, which only compounds the problem for people stuggling their homes.

FMI about training, you can contact Burbank at 594-2244. Additional information can be found here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Small business entrepreneurship

The demise of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram has been painful to watch. Maine's newspaper of record has become a fish wrap, rather than a source for news, of late.

One of the few writers left worth reading is the young and talented, Justin Ellis, who writes the weekly edgy, hip, NXT: The Next Generation. Ellis, who I know from personal experience has impeccable musical tastes, and knows his way around a turntable, has an interesting column in yesterday's PPH, about young entrepreneurs in Portland, particularly those not encumbered by small spaces.

Ellis features Z-Fabrics, located in the tiniest of storefronts. Not hindred by close quarters, owner Mary Zarate utilizes her "personal touch, good humor and strong sense of style"to create a place that according to the article, has "become Portland's favorite source for hip fabrics."

[Z-Fabrics; Congress Street & Franklin Avenue, Portland]

Reading Ellis' article reminded me how important it is not to overlook entrepreneurship, and the encouragement of small business options for those who have the requisite skills to succeed. In fact, the most vibrant communities in Maine, economically, have a healthy mix of entrepreneurs, young, and not so young.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is wind in our future?

Village Soup has an interesting profile on Seth Silverton, an energy consultant and entrepreneur, based in Lincolnville.

According to the article, Silverton moved his family from Brooklyn, NY, to Maine, after the 9-11 attacks "...when smoke, soot and debris from the World Trade Center blanketed his neighborhood, depositing burning papers on his lawn. That day, he told his wife, Jessica, that he was moving the family to Maine."

While Silverton is relatively new to the state, his view that "Maine is sitting on the greatest source of offshore wind in the United States," and that "The Gulf of Maine is the Saudi Arabia of wind power," echo similar sentiments of one who has lived in Maine much longer, former governor, Angus King.

Obviously Silverton and King recognize the potential to harness the natural power of the wind for profit, as well as informing policy people and politicans what needs to be done to ensure that our state has the capacity to meet its energy needs in the future.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Falling through the cracks

[Bettman/Corbis photo]

About a year ago, I met a gentleman named Rick, at a business after hours event hosted by our local Chamber of Commerce, here in Lewiston. We discussed what we did for work, and when he found out I was in workforce development, he told me about two rooming houses that he operates for unemployed and underemployed men in the city.

He was quite animated about how men were being left behind by all the various government programs that he was aware of, and paid taxes to support. He had very strong opinions about how this was wrong, and that it would continue to pose problems for the men that he domiciled. He also had an evident passion to provide an opportunity to a demographic that he felt was being kicked to the curb.

He and I exchanged information, and regularly, I’ve been sending him updates about various training programs I’ve been facilitating. On a couple of occasions, I’ve gone by these two rooming houses to actively recruit. Unfortunately, I’ve not had any takers, yet.

In running across this excellent article, by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, I was reminded of my conversation with Rick.

This article highlights issues that are front and center for anyone involved in workforce development.

Tuhus-Dubrow’s article honestly looks at how poor men receive less help, as well as much more scorn heaped upon them, than women. Interestingly, while the “welfare queen” moniker still gets tossed around, it is more likely today that out of work men will receive demonization, and have derisive labels applied to their situation.

From her Boston Globe article, Tuhus-Dubrow writes,

The icon of the "undeserving poor," by contrast, has always been the able-bodied man. Although some programs in the New Deal and the War on Poverty provided them with jobs and training, social welfare policy has otherwise largely ignored men. One practical reason is that as a rule, aid to children - the paragons of vulnerability - has been channeled through mothers. Equally potent, though, is the longstanding cultural belief that men, barring economic disasters, should be able to take care of themselves. Today, especially, low-income men have an image problem. Many are convicts and "deadbeat dads," widely seen as deserving blame, not bailouts.

Because low-income men are more likely to turn to crime than females, this compounds the problem, as having a criminal history greatly diminishes employability, particularly if it involves a felony conviction.

A variety of innovative solutions are being looked at, from reducing child support debt for men, to aggressive efforts to reintegrate ex-offenders into society, and New York State’s efforts instituting wage subsidies.

Interestingly, both conservative critics, and feminist organizations equally oppose expenditures, such as New York’s.

One program, however, that is focusing its efforts on young men, is called Fathers at Work.

Sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Fathers at Work is a three-year national initiative designed to help young, noncustodial fathers achieve increased employment and earnings, greater involvement in their children’s lives, and more consistent financial support of their children. The Mott Foundation selected two national intermediaries to provide assistance and to evaluate Fathers at Work. The National Center for Nonprofit Planning and Leadership (NPCL) was asked to provide technical assistance on fatherhood and child support, while Public/Private Ventures was asked to provide assistance on employment and to evaluate the demonstration. Six pilot sites were selected, including sites in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.

Discounting segments of our population from work has been common in the past. Given our current demographics, this won’t work, and it violates the belief that every person has unique talents and abilities to society, which is what I believe, ought to motivate everyone who has a role to play in workforce development. Better yet, it is a comprehensive, holistic approach to poverty, not a segmented, ineffective approach, like our current one.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Work integration

I’m fortunate in my job in that I get to partner with amazing colleagues, and business leaders on the cutting edge. Yesterday, I had lunch with one of them.

One of the topics we discussed was the changing world of work, and how technology impacts that world.

It’s a given that technology is here to stay, and isn’t going away. Amazingly, the issue of computer literacy continues to be a problem, as in too many job seekers really don’t have the requisite technology skills to succeed in today’s technologically-driven world.

While many assume that this is more a generational issue, I’m finding that even younger job seekers, most often perceived as most comfortable with technology, know how to convert that comfort into skills required in the world of work. Knowing how to surf the web isn’t a skill most businesses are looking for.

Certainly, a generational case could be made that younger workers generally have better technology skills than older workers, and that multi-tasking is a way of life for them. At the same time, despite their intuitive grasp of technology, studies indicate that they might be lacking in other essential skills.

I think it’s possible to integrate younger workers’ traits and work styles into established company cultures. In fact, it behooves all of us to make sure that we do, while at the same time, making sure that younger workers learn essential skills; how to communicate clearly and concisely (preferably using proper grammar, or a close approximation), know how to fit in with the team, can manage conflict appropriately, and understand why your company has the policies and procedures that it does. Younger workers could also learn a few tricks from their older colleagues about networking (as in face-to-face, not web-based), and the importance of it.

While I recognize the generational differences in today’s workforce, I also believe that it’s advantageous, and essential, particularly with the right kind of leadership facilitating the integration.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Business as usual?

I'm sorry that the posting has been lighter than usual--I'm just returning from a welcome week of vacation.

Over the weekend, I heard Dale McCormick talking about the governor's new energy plan, on WGAN. While I think it's a start and a short term solution to a much larger problem, I guess I was hoping that there would be more to it. Maybe I was being overly optimistic, or possibly, I missed something. It may have been naive for me to think that Maine might really be bold for a change. Apparently, others were underwhelmed, also.

As I've written before, our state has to be aggressive this time, on this matter, in getting out in front on energy, instead of being content to rank 46th. I'm sorry, but there's nothing to celebrate about being 46th in anything.

I was reading about hybrid cars, and an article by Justin Hyde, in the Detroit Free Press caught my eye.

Apparently, the U.S. has been good in developing the science that undergirds battery technology, we've fallen short on the implementation side--actually making them.

From Hyde's article,

The future of the U.S. auto industry resembles a box of parts for hybrids, plug-in electrics and fuel cells. But that box comes with a familiar disclaimer:
Batteries not included.

As Detroit's automakers rush to develop electric cars, they find themselves reliant on foreign sources for advanced batteries. While much of the science was developed in U.S. labs, Asian companies have a two-decade head start on actually making rechargeable batteries.

Batteries, wind blades, and even the refining of petroleum; couldn't Maine be a leader, just once?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What are we preparing our kids for?

I read this article in The Juggle, a WSJ blog that details the challenges inherent in juggling work and family.

It hits on familiar themes about Millennials, and the current crop of helicopter parents who've enabled (and enfeebled) a generation of future workers.

One of my son's college roommates had laundry service provided by his mom. While this young man is out in the workplace, doing quite well, I remember this giving me reason for pause when I witnessed it for the first time.

When I went off to college in the early 80s, I was basically on my own, both financially, and in every other aspect.

After I lost my college baseball scholarship due to injury, I wasn't long for the dormitory world. After getting married, moving to the midwest, and becoming a dad, I went back to school nights and weekends, and finished my degree nearly a decade later.

Not only did I know how to do laundry, but the university of life provided me with chops in car repair (teaching myself the tricks of the trade on a '68 Impala, and later, a '74 Plymouth Scamp), basic electrical wiring, and survival in an urban area of over 8 million people.

Those lessons learned early in my adult life have served me well, and prepared me for the complexities of the life I've grown into. They've also taught me valuable entreprenurial skills that I draw upon daily in my workforce role, as well as my writing/publishing sideline.

Knowing how to do one's laundry is Life 101, and should be learned long before heading off to college, and future success in the workplace.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A New Venture: Maine's Shared Use Kitchen Coalition

There is a new movement in Maine developing a novel economic and workforce development strategy: Maine's Shared Use Kitchen Coalition. What is a Shared Use Kitchen? It is a licensed facility that provides food entrepreneurs the space to prepare and process their local food products for consumer marketing. The project is basically an incubator to help small businesses develop their product and help them find resources and distribution networks. Once these businesses are on their feet they will add workforce and obivously bring money into Maine.

Currently, there are at least 5 community projects that have begun in various parts of Maine:
Penobscot Bay Commerical Kitchen in Bucksport
Fairbanks School Shard Use Kitchen in Farmington
York County Community Kitchen in Saco
Cobscook Marketing Co-Op/Community Kitchen in Eastport
And the River Valley Technology Center is in the concept stage in Rumford

The goal of the coalition is to rebuild Maine's food cluster infrastructure through investment in local production and distribution facilities. This project is building on the fact that the specialy food segment of the retail food industry is the fastest growth segment and consumers want to buy local. Buying local helps the environment by limiting our carbon footprint and adds food security because food is not traveling as far. In fact, the Brookings Report recognized the food sector as one of Maine's competitive industry clusters.

This initiative will not only help food entrepreneurs, but also farming as well. According to the Coalition, "The biggest increase in farms currently is small diversified operations. Farms with value of sales less than $2,500 increased from 2,978 in 1997 to 3,634 in 2002 or approximately 22%. Also, women as principal farm operators increased by 35% during that same period. These trends would indicate a need to expand the local infrastructure supporting agriculture, helping to ensure that these operations succeed and grow."

There are a few of these ventures around the country as well. Jack Schultz, in his BoomtownUSA blog discusses his tour of the Food Venture in Madison, IN. This is a 5200 sq. ft. shared use kitchen and food incubator. This is a wonderful venture for Maine and an important cluster to rebuild. I look forward to the "fruits" of the Coalition.