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A Train That Is Leaving the Station

What happened to the guy who delivered blocks of ice to my great grandmother’s kitchen a hundred years ago? What about the guy who fixed leather harnesses for the horses/buggies that were still the dominant mode of transportation back then?


Chances are, those workers and many more like them - - people displaced by new technologies - - learned new trades. They may have resisted, but the evolution of technology was inevitable and remarkably swift. In today’s globally competitive market, with information traveling at the speed of light to every laptop and iPhone, change will come even faster. We need to prepare the workers who are in today’s version of horse-and-buggy industries and we need to do it fast.


I was in Brussels and London last week and governments there are including green job training in their stimulus packages. Will these investments give them more return on their euros than our federal spending on bonuses for failed bankers? When will we get smart about retraining the workforce and stimulating a low carbon economic recovery that is based on energy and technology that will last into the next century, instead of hoping to revive industries that are deeply rooted in the last century?


Auto workers in Detroit should be learning how to build and service electric cars powered by hydrogen or new battery technology. Laid off construction workers should be learning how to install solar panels or how to insulate buildings to save energy. Unemployed bankers could be learning about counting carbon emissions and about how to reduce those greenhouse gases and use credits to help others do likewise. These are all skills that will be in great demand as the economy recovers, not just for a few more years of pollution-based prosperity, but for generations of sustainable growth to come.


When you see a train coming down the tracks, you can find a way to get onboard and steer it or you can wait to be run over. When I compare the response of the US to that of other countries that are also suffering from the current economic meltdown, it appears we may not even know the train has left the station. Green job training is a cost-effective way to blow the whistle and catch up!

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  • Allen Laudenslager

    The largest problem with "retraining" is that it demands that the worker know what industry to plan for and where his/her abilities and interests will fit. And that they do it in an information poor environment. Most plans also demand that the worker make their decision years in advance since the training (which the worker is expected to pay for) since the training will take, at a minimum, 6 months but more likely 2 years. 2 years because the traditional certification process is an associates degree from an accredited junior college.

    Most people don't start with a career plan - I'll become a lawyer - they find a job and start learning on the job - your uncle Joe is a plumber and needs summer help. Graduate from high school and keep working for uncle Joe, or your neighbor, or your high school buddy's dad.

    How non-college graduates find jobs is a disorganized and messy process. All the retraining suggestions are predicated on the idea that it is an organized and predictable process.

    If you are gong to point people toward career fields and training classes you must accept the obligation to ensure that the jobs are their and in the numbers needed for all the people who take your advice.

    Since no one can make that guarantee, make sure you don't have unrealistic expectations for the poor slob trying to find a job with less information than you have.