Thursday, September 25, 2008

Creating a wind-based career path

(From The Daily, the MaineBiz daily email news blast)
Northern Maine Community College next fall plans to start training wind power technicians, the first program of its kind in New England, according to the Bangor Daily News.

The Maine Community College System board of trustees approved the program at a meeting last night in South Portland, the newspaper reported. Officials at NMCC said the program, which will train technicians to operate, maintain and repair wind turbine generators, was inspired by the increased interest in wind power in Maine and the fact Maine's first large-scale wind farm in Mars Hills is just a few miles down the road from the campus in Presque Isle.

NMCC says it could offer initial courses as early as January, with the whole program online for the fall.

Hopefully this is the first of many other programs that will help lead Maine forward, embracing green collar jobs, and helping the Pine Tree State get out in front on the energy issue.

For additional reading on a workforce strategy that can work for Maine, download this executive summary of Greener Pathways, from the Apollo Alliance.
Here is a link back to Mainebiz.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Put the phone down at work

Last Friday’s fatal commuter rail crash, in Los Angeles, may have been caused because the driver was text messaging and distracted, prior to the crash.

According to AP reports, federal rail investigators said Monday they would go to court to get an engineer's cell phone records to determine if he was text messaging when his commuter train slammed head-on into a freight locomotive, killing 25 people.

[Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times]

The pervasing (and invasive) nature of today's technology, particularly as it intersects with the world of work, creates safety and liability issues. Should this be a much larger concern for employers? Should companies adopt policies and have more detailed regulations about use of personal communication tools, like cell phones, BlackBerry devices, and other handheld technology, while on company time?

In 2003, the NTSB recommended banning the use of cell phones by railroad employees on duty after finding that a coal train engineer's phone use contributed to a May 2002 accident in which two freight trains collided head-on near Clarendon, Texas. The coal train engineer was killed and the conductor and engineer of the other train were critically injured.

Back in May, another fatal crash, this one in Boston, was initially attributed to operator inattention caused by a cell phone, when passengers reported seeing Terrese Edmonds talking on her phone prior to the crash.

After investigators reviewed Ms. Edmonds’ phone records, it was determined that she was not on her phone at the time of the crash.

This issue will continue to grow and escalate, particularly given that younger workers are rarely without their cell phone and other gadgets during work hours.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Maine's employment future

If you picked up this morning’s Portland Press Herald, and read Noel K. Gallagher’s article about Maine’s future employment landscape, you would be forgiven if you decided to pack up the family and move them somewhere with a much sunnier economic outlook. If this pessimistic perspective was the entire story, then we all might be better served by pulling up roots and heading elsewhere. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Gallagher is operating merely on the information provided by Maine’s Department of Labor, reporting what’s been handed to him. A bit more investigative work might have helped him write a more balanced story. But journalistic vigor has been lacking at the Press Herald for quite some time. [I stand corrected by an anonymous comment; Mr. Gallagher should be Ms. Gallagher. I made an incorrect assumption, and got called on it.-JB]

While the statistical information provided by the MDOL report, “Maine Employment Outlook to 2016” shows the loss of jobs paying high wages, like manufacturing, replacing them with lower wage service sector jobs, it neglects an important component that gives me considerable hope for the future—middle skills.

Back in March, I worked on developing a communiqué (and an Op-Ed) that talked about the need and importance of providing access to training that would prepare Maine’s workforce for jobs that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Market Statistics says will comprise over 60 percent of the jobs created during the next 10 years. These jobs, which pay living wages, are available, and often lack a labor pipeline necessary to keep them filled.

Additionally, while some of these jobs highlighted by groups like The Workforce Alliance and their Skills 2 Compete initiative may not be as abundant in Maine, with leadership and guidance coming from those both elected, or appointed, our state could be moving in a direction that it should have been trending a decade ago.

To be filed under causes of optimism, The Daily, Mainebiz’s noon email news blast references a report indicating that 9,000+ jobs could be created in Maine, tied to a “green economic recovery plan.”

The report, released nationally by the Center for American Progress (and in Maine by the Natural Resources Council of Maine) notes that an investment of $100 billion nationwide for “green infrastructure” would create 2 million jobs nationwide, including 9,132 in Maine.

The $100 billion would come in part from rolling back taxes and subsidies offered to oil and gas companies, as well as proceeds coming from auctions of carbon offsets under a greenhouse cap-and-trade program.

The report has specific details for each state, including Maine. Many of these jobs would be in the same areas where Mainers already have experience; constructing a wind farm creates the need for sheet metal workers, machinists and truck drivers. Making buildings more energy efficient requires roofers, insulators, building envelope technicians, etc.

While there might be some disagreement about the actual number of jobs, I think it’s important to emphasize that there are opportunities for Maine to move forward, and hold to a much more optimistic vision of the future, than offered by the cited Press Herald article.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What is Educational and Career Success?

Even though I disagree vehemently with most of Charles Murray's writing, especially "The Bell Curve", he has written a piece on Work Wonk (The Workforce Development Channel) that I found very interesting. In "Leave This Child Behind", he writes eloquently about the importance of vocational education and the need for more support of Centers for Technical Education. Murray believes that the "No Child Left Behind" act is a failure because it creates a culture that if students don't go to college (Four-year college) they are failures. He argues that the k-12 education system disdains vocational education and educators drive students to the college track, even though they would be much more successful in the trades or middle skills jobs.

My favorite quotation in the article is the new definition of educational succes that Murray writes: "The goal of education is to bring children into adulthood having discovered things they enjoy doing and having learned to do them well. The goal applies equally to children who have the ability to be fine lawyers or physicians and children who have the ability to be fine machinists, cops, paramedics, computer programmers, waiters, or long-haul truckers. Educational success has been achieved when our children spend their working lives doing something that gives them satisfaction."

As we have written many times in this blog, Maine lags behind in filling middle skill jobs that the CTE Centers & Community Colleges prepare students for. Murray, again argues that educators, parents, and society in general must start respecting these important middle-skill professions. Murry writes, "In the quest to redefine educational success, we have a dragon to slay: The misbegotten, pernicious, wrongheaded idea that not going to college means you are failure. It deforms the behavior of all the actors in America's secondary schools-principals, teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and students....The high school student who sets out to become a machinist is making a choice as worthy as that student who is trying to get into Harvard. Such choices deserve our support and--this is imperative--our respect." I definitely agree that the CTE's and Community Colleges are very important and must be respected for what they help students do in their careers. The Work Wonk website is a great website for those interested in workforce development issues.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Blue Collar Jobs

An article at CNN, from highlights the seed change that has occurred in the world of work and occupations. Even traditional labor-intensive jobs classified in the past as "blue collar," require an entirely different skillset and require training and/or certifications, which make them different than prior jobs involving a strong back, and a kinesthetic orientation and learning style.

Here are a few jobs from their list, with a synopsis and pay:

Electronic home entertainment equipment installer/repairer-
Lifting and installing a new 60-inch flat-screen TV is no easy. Plus, such equipment isn't cheap, so buyers are willing to spend the extra money to have it professionally delivered and installed, or to get it fixed when it goes on the fritz. Salary: $14.42/hour; $29,980/year

Terrazzo worker and finisher -
High end homes, and an emphasis on image as function makes any type of design work high on the demand side. Terrazzo finishers apply decorative and attractive finishes to hallways, patios, floors and panels in households around the world. Salary: $15.21/hour; $31,630/year

Security and fire alarm systems installer-
Property crime is down 2.6 percent in the first six months of 2007, according to the FBI, robbery, burglary and larceny-theft still pose a threat. Security and fire systems installers work to ensure people feel safe in their homes. Salary: $16.73/hour; $34,810/year

Heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic and installer-
As everything in the U.S. is "going green," energy-saving heating and cooling systems in their homes and offices will become commonplace. Existing equipment requires service to them to operate at the highest efficiency, which means professionally maintaining them. Salary: $18.44/hour; $38,360/year

Structural and reinforcing iron and metal worker -
Infrastructure in Maine and across the U.S. continues to age. As buildings, bridges, power plants and highways need to be rehabbed, repaired, replaced or maintained and these are the people who will do it. Salary: $19.46/hour; $40,480/year

Regardless whether the job is blue collar, green collar, or whatever color you assign, today’s workers must possess postsecondary education credentials, technical savvy, the ability to learn rapidly, and an entrepreneurial approach to employment never hurts. Aligning resources and workforce development programs are required, if we have any hope of achieving this goal.

*Note: Salaries and figures based on median annual/hourly earnings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics