Sunday, November 18, 2007

The calvary is coming... declares a new sign by the outpost of the striking Kentucky Nurses Association (KNA) in front of the Whitesburg hospital of Appalachian Regional Healthcare system .

I didn't get to stop and ask who the calvary might be, but this week's article in the Lexington Herald-Leader suggests that the calvary might be "a federal mediator and state officials" who have been instrumental in restarting negotiations between ARH and the KNA.

Six weeks ago when the strike began, ARH took a hardline stand, refusing to continue negotiations and announcing that they would begin immediately to hire permanent replacements for the striking nurses.

This week's article provides another hint about why ARH might be willing to temper their hardline stand and resume the negotiations. The precise numbers are in dispute (depending upon whether you are reading the KNA site, the ARH site, or the Herald-Leader), but approximately 750 registered nurses are involved in the dispute, of which about 600 have refused to cross the picket line. Some 150 to 175 union nurses have violated the picket line and continued to work. ARH has permanently replaced another 125 striking nurse positions.

It's not hard to see that this leaves ARH with at least 450 registered nurse positions that are unfilled. One wonders how ARH ever imagined that they could replace the striking nurses in today's employment market. They acted as if they had not heard there was a nursing shortage. Or perhaps they merely hoped that time, cold, lack of income, and the threat of replacement would soften the KNA resolve.

The real jobs for the twenty-first century!

On Monday this week, my Kentucky Community and Technical College System newsletter carried a story from Inside Higher Education entitled "University Training in the Skilled Trades" by Elizabeth Redden.

West Virginia University recognizing from their own difficulties in hiring skill trades workers (including carpenters, electricians, heating, ventilation and air conditioning mechanics, and plumbers) decided to create their own four year "apprenticeship program [that] pairs each apprentice with a mentor, and includes 1,600 hours of on-the-job training per-year and 145 annual hours of classroom training (to be conducted through a combination of classes at a local technical college, distance education and instruction from West Virginia staff)." Redden points out that West Virginia is hardly alone in this, "the University of Virginia...just celebrated its 25th anniversary for its apprenticeship program in July [2007]."

Many colleges across the country are facing difficulties in recruiting and hiring skilled trades workers, a situation, likely to increase as large numbers of skill workers move into retirement in the next decade.

The key element of the programs that Redden discusses is the apprenticeship. The lack of apprenticeship opportunities is one of the major stumbling bottlenecks in the development of a new generation of skilled workers, as there must be employers willing to employ apprentices and provide appropriate supervision for them over a period of several years.

While most Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges provide training for electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC workers, only one college in the system -- Jefferson CTC -- has apprenticeship programs and only in carpentry and millwright work. Other KCTCS programs appear to stop short of apprenticeship, providing at most preparation for the journeyman examinations such as in plumbing.

Skilled trades jobs will never be outsourced to India or China. They require workers to be physically present. There will always be a need for carpenters, millwrights, plumbers, electricians, masons and bricklayers, gardeners and landscape specialists, and auto repair workers in the American economy. Yet Kentucky community and technical colleges seem to be more interested in producing exactly the kind of worker whose job will be outsourced -- the digital worker. Certainly every 21st century worker, including or even perhaps especially those in the skilled trades, needs to be technologically savvy and have strong computer skills. But it is a serious mistake to focus on the kinds of technology (e.g., programming) and office (e.g., medical transcript) jobs that are already being outsourced to India.

The allied health professions are a focus of Kentucky community and technical colleges, and appropriately so. Nursing, radiography (unlike radiology), and respiratory therapy cannot be outsourced. These health care workers have to be physically present with the patient, wherever that patient may be.

The skilled trades do not hold the allure and status of allied health professions, but they do promise as good or better job opportunities, and should not be overlooked. More energy needs to be invested in developing business partnerships and apprenticeship opportunities in the skilled trades. Why let universities (like West Virginia and Virginia) take over the historical mission of community and technical colleges? Community colleges in other states (such as Michigan and Wisconsin) have far more extensive apprenticeship programs. KCTCS wants to be the very best community college system in the nation, here's an opportunity!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Politics of the damned?

When I moved to Kentucky the first time (in 1975) I was given a postcard with a humorous poem about life in Kentucky. The final line of the poem is "the politics are the damnedest in Kentucky." During every one of the nearly 19 years that I've lived in this state, I've seen lots of supporting evidence for that statement, but the performance of state representative Jim Gooch (Democrat from Providence, KY) tops the list. In his capacity as chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee (!!) Gooch organized a hearing to dispute the idea that the Earth is warming.

Chairman Jim Gooch, D-Providence, a longtime ally of the coal industry, said
he purposefully did not invite anyone who believes in global warming to
"You can only hear that the sky is falling so many times," said
Gooch, whose post makes him the House Democrats' chief environmental strategist.
"We hear it every day from the news media, from the colleges, from
Hollywood." (Lexington Herald-Leader Thurs. Nov. 15, 2007 )

Neither of the two speakers invited were scientists because Rep. Gooch said "It really wasn't my intention to get into so much science today."

I spotted this story in the Herald-Leader while waiting for my car to be serviced. (Thank you, AutoWorks of Whitesburg for always having a current newspaper in the waiting area!). When I got to work, I searched the article out on-line. The most interesting aspect of reading the article on line was perusing the comments posted by readers.

My favorite comment, by Tom Burns was "I believe the large vacant cavity that is
Jim Gooch's skull is a prime location for trapping carbon dioxide."
The sad thing about the comments is that a significant minority of posters applauded Gooch, and echoed the speakers sentiments that the only thing "only thing man made about global warming is the hysteria." A line used in several variations by many of the posters in agreement with Gooch and his invited speakers.