Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WorkReady and other fall workforce activities

Blogging time has been scarce of late. September/October is a time of multiple WorkReady programs. This morning, I was in Waterville, holding an informational session for the program at the library. We had a good group of eight interested folks, and five filled out applications and stayed for the CASAS assessment.

Recruitment has been going well. This is our third time that we've offered the program in Waterville, and it appears that word is getting out and hopefully, we'll have our 12-15 participants that is always our goal, allowing us to maximize training funds.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be leaving the house early to drive 90 miles to East Madison, where I'll help with mock interviews for our second WorkReady program at Somerset County Jail. The county jail populations are a perfect setting for the kinds of work skills that WorkReady provides to trainees.

Unfortunately, employer support for this WorkReady pilot in the jail from area employers has been lukewarm at best. Our mock interview day is one of the key components of the program, particularly since poor interviewing skills (which many of these candidates possess) often prevent accessing employment success. Especially frustrating have been wider appeals made directly to groups like KVHRA, the major human resources association in Mid-Maine. In southern Maine, when the program has been offered at the Maine Correctional Center, HRASM was an eager and willing participant, assisting with mock interviews, and even writing letters of support indicating how impressed they were with the program offered in that location.

Possibly it stems from ignorance, and the lack of understanding that the best way to impede continued criminal behavior is by providing support in the way of a job that pays a decent wage when these individuals leave the jail.

Recently, F. Lee Bailey was in Maine touting a program called Amicus, which seeks to partner jail inmates with employers willing to hire them. It seems to me that there is the potential of partnering, providing work skills for inmates while in jails like the one in Somerset County, and then connecting them with supportive employers upon release. In my opinion, creating tax-paying citizens is a better solution, than continuing to entail the costs of warehousing them in the county jail system.

In addition to these programs, recruitment is ongoing for our Lewiston program, which begins October 19. I'll be holding an informational meeting next week for DHHS/ASPIRE clients. Lewiston is our longest running site, with WorkReady now in its third year in that community.

Additionally, I am part of a subcommittee at the statewide level for the program, planning a train-the-trainer orientation for Adult Education sites that want to offer WorkReady for the first time.

With my remaining spare minutes, I continue to work with the business services staff in Lewiston to coordinate monthly events targeting key business sectors that are informational, and targeted towards jobs seekers, and workers recently affected by layoffs.

I'm hoping to weigh-in at some point about the bevy of gubenatorial candidates, and their job creation/workforce strategies. For political junkies like me, this is an exciting time, as we're a bit more than a year removed from November 2010's election of our next governor.

For others like me, “jonesing” for the horserace to begin, Derek Viger, at The Maine View conducted an entirely “unscientific” online poll last week. The results were interesting and gave a preliminary indication that political neophyte, Bruce Poliquin, may have an organization capable of mobilizing supporters, very important at such an early stage in the game.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The road to success

I happened across this blog post titled, "Unique Service + Hard Work = Opportunity." To me it captures the kind of can-do attitude that Americans used to have in abundance, but unfortunately, it's being bred out of us for a variety of reasons.

Blogger Jeremy Hanks wrote, "A couple days ago, I got a knock on my door, and a guy that was wearing blue rubber gloves was there when I opened it. He said something like: “I lost my job a while back, and got sick of not working, so I’m out providing a service today. I’ll clean out your garbage cans for $10 each, or two for $15. I use a pressure washer and industrial strength bleach and I literally climb inside them and scrub them by hand.”

I hired him on the spot, for two reasons: 1. my garbage cans were nasty; 2. I’d have hired him anyway, because here’s a guy down on his luck making his own. "

What do you think? Would you have hired this guy to clean your garbage cans, and if so, why?

What is it that you have been putting off? How about getting started right now making plans to complete whatever it is that you've been stuck on?

Don't think it's possible? On June 23, I weighed 259 pounds when I got on the scale that morning. This morning, my weight was 223.5, down 35.5 pounds in 12 weeks. I was sick of being fat, so I did something about it.

Here's a few things that I've done, taking positive action (losing weight and getting fit) in my own life.
  • Biked 900 miles
  • Figured out my baseline calories to maintain weight
  • Figured out how much weight I wanted to lose and the calorie limits to doing so
  • Started lifting weights
  • Signed up for The Dempsey Challenge

I've also written two books and am at work on a third one. Writing and publishing is another area that I stopped talking about and started doing.

What needs doing in your own life?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prosperity bypassing younger workers

The AFL-CIO and Working America have just released their report "Young Workers a Lost Decade," which chronicles a less than rosy economic future for workers younger than 35.

Here are some of the findings highlighted in the report:
  • Half of all young workers live on the low-income end of the wage scale, earning less than $30,000 a year.
  • Three quarters of those workers say prices are rising faster than their incomes.
  • Seven out of 10 say they do not have enough money saved to cover just two months of living expenses.
Less than half of the workers in this demographic have paid sick leave—compared to 70 percent of workers who earn more than $30,000 a year. Fourty-four percent have no health insurance at all.

While additional education offers a potential path out the low-income world for many young workers, the rising cost of education, coupled with low-wages, is moving the pursuit of the American dream beyond the reach of many. Some 43 percent of low-income workers say they have put off education or professional development because of the cost, and 54 percent say they are worried about being able to pay for further education.

I'd be interested in reader's thoughts about solutions, and if they think this report paints a realistic picture, or if they think it's findings are slanted ideologically. Obviously, there are those that will posit that since the AFL-CIO had their hand in producing the report, then it's probably skewered towards a pro-union point of view.

The reality for many, however, is that the social contract that once existed in this country has somehow been altered. One would have to be living in cave not to recognize that the long-term job security that once existed for my father's generation, has disappeared.

It's hard to argue against the fact that there is a growing gulf between the haves and have-nots in the U.S., with the healthcare issue factoring into that. There is also the growing perception that this is the case, also. IMHO, this is not a positive development for a country that once prided itself on equal access to prosperity, at least in concept, if not necessarily reality.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day, 2009

Labor Day weekend is upon us, which for most people now signifies the end of summer. This year the thought of summer coming to an end is particularly difficult (for those of us in the northeast) given that June/July were so wet and woeful, and it seems like we never really had a summer, or at least that summer got squished into a two week period in August.

The three, or four day weekend for many is a chance to close up the camp, get in one last summer shindig, or for some, the chance to wrap up, or complete projects around the house.

Labor Day is now a federal holiday, which is always celebrated the first Monday in September. The first official Labor Day celebration took place on September 5, 1882, in New York City, after American Labor leader Peter McGuire witnessed a similar celebration of workers in Toronto, Canada and thought a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

The Canadian event celebrating labor’s role was born from that disputes and strife in that nation connected to the “Nine-hour Movement,” first in Hamilton, and later Toronto. Parades held supporting that initiative and in conjunction with a printer’s strike led to that nation’s celebration of its laboring classes, and it was this event that McGuire originally saw that led to his initiation of the first New York City event.

[Labor Day parade, Buffalo, NY, circa 1900]

Nationwide recognition and Labor Day’s official sanction came in 1894. It was in the aftermath of a particularly violent strike in Chicago, involving the Pullman Palace Car Company, when federal troops were ordered in by President Cleveland to end the strike. The president’s action at federalizing strikebreaking led to the death of two workers at the hands of U.S. deputy marshals, when they fired on protesters, in Kensington, near Chicago.

1894 was an election year, and President Cleveland, fearing additional violence, but more important, looking for an opportunity to appear conciliatory towards labor, sought quick passage of legislation making Labor Day a national holiday. The bill was rushed through Congress where it passed unanimously and signed into law in a mere six days following the end of the Pullman strike.

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, then head of the American Federation of Labor, called Labor Day “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

According to Gallup, only about 1 in 10 Americans belong to a labor union, based upon recent estimates, and about one in six U.S. households include a union member. This is down from the heyday of unions in the 1950s when almost 50 percent of U.S. workers belonged to a union. In that context, it’s not surprising that the labor aspect of Labor Day is no longer emphasized.

As someone who appreciates history, and actually knows some labor history, I’m keenly aware of the gains that workers that came long before my time have extended to me via battle and sacrifice. Sadly, like many other key aspects of our nation’s culture and heritage, they are being scrubbed from memory mainly because students in the schools of today don’t learn about them.

In doing some research online to post my nod to Labor Day, I happened across Bill Stanley’s article for the Norwich Bulletin. I'm guessing that Stanley is a citizen of the "seasoned" variety from some of the personal information that he shares regarding his own labor background. Like many men of his era, he remembers when men (and women) had to physically contend for the things that we all take for granted today.

Labor history isn’t ancient history. It wasn’t that long ago (20 years) that Maine witnessed a particularly contentious strike in the town of Jay, Maine, a strike that still leaves its mark on the community where it occurred.

I still remember my own family being affected by strikes when my father, a paper mill worker, would go out on strike, sometimes for weeks at a time. I can remember as a youngster, lying in bed and hearing my mother and father talking about it and wondering what might happen to us. Would my father go back to work? Would we have enough food? I remember my dad coming home with boxes of groceries that had been provided to striking workers to tide them over until the strike was settled.

Those are just a few of my own memories that I reflect back upon on Labor Day, this year.