the (new) american worker

Fluff Alert! Labor Department Releases Green Jobs “Report” for Earth Day
April 22, 2010, 10:46 pm
Filed under: jobs | Tags: , , , ,

Fluff alert!! Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and another green jobs photo op.

Check out the Labor Department site and you will see that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was all over Earth Day today – naturally, the 40 year celebration of Mother Earth is an opportune occasion to highlight her agency’s efforts in green job building. But if you check out the Dept’s “full report”  on green jobs, (at 10 pages) you will see lots of cool pictures of Solis strolling confidently through solar plants but not a ton of data. It’s a little disappointing, but I guess the PR opportunity was there and the Labor Dept decided to just go with it. Of course, the report did acknowledge the $490 million that was awarded for green jobs training under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but that’s nothing new at all. How about an update on that funding? What training programs have been successful? What are the conversion rates for older workers into new careers in green building or energy industries? What are the sign up rates for young people in vocational tech programs like solar installation? Are new degree programs being explored, to accommodate the need for intellectual investment in homegrown energy technology? These are the sorts of questions that should be answered in a “green jobs report,” not another picture of Hilda Solis looking good in industrial plant gear! C’mon guys.


SolarCity Catching Headwinds, Adding Jobs in 2010
April 18, 2010, 10:36 pm
Filed under: solar | Tags: , , , ,

Office with a view: Foster City, CA-based SolarCity is hiring for a range of roles to support its growing solar installation business.

A few days back, I wrote about the impressive growth in the residential solar market in 2009. One company that has caught these headwinds is SolarCity, a Foster City, CA-based solar leasing company that notably offers “no-money-down” leases for home solar installations. Apparently, more and more consumers are now taking SolarCity up on its offer – the San Jose Mercury News reports that the company added almost 300 jobs last year and anticipates adding another 250 in 2010. A spokesman for the company emphasized that these jobs were full-time, full benefits jobs – in my mind, an attractive transition for all those laid-off home contractors out there.

A quick scan of some job posting boards shows SolarCity isn’t just tossing around hiring claims for good press – they are indeed hiring, for a wide range of gigs. Take a look at, and you can see SolarCity is hiring everyone from installers to sales to brand management – the field or the corporate office – take your pick!

No (Economic) Surprise: Green Manufacturing Jobs Flow Overseas
April 3, 2010, 2:52 pm
Filed under: jobs | Tags: , , , , ,

One of the persistent concerns of President Obama’s massive $367 billion federal investment in new energy projects – from coal to renewables – is that the American labor force is too expensive, and/or lacks the proper training, for the needs of producers. A piece in Bloomberg BusinessWeek this week captured this idea quite simply:

No surprises: Arizona's First Solar will use federal incentives to hire 200 American workers - yet 71 percent of its manufacturing needs will still be met by foreign labor.

From BBW:

“Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc. plans to do 71 percent of its manufacturing hiring in Malaysia after getting $16.3 million in federal funding to hire 200 people at an Ohio plant.”

Herein lies the ultimate problem – the economics of outsourcing the majority of manufacturing needs still makes sense to companies, incentives or not. Unfortunately, this simple reality doesn’t quiet any of the political outrage – especially as the Obama administration attempts to make good on its promise of 700,000 new jobs in stimulus renewables projects.

A green “industrial revolution” right here in America sounds great to some people – me included. This very blog was created to educate myself and others on the potentials for American labor in a new energy economy. Yet how the Obama administration is supposed to leapfrog over simple economics – foreign labor is, in my cases, simply cheaper – is still unclear to me. Perhaps it really is time that our nation’s expectations are shifted towards the potentials that lie in specialization and competitive advantage. CNBC recently ran a days-long debate on this topic, and the discussion turned often to where our best efforts should lie: in advanced education and innovation or in heavy industry and brawn. I believe Obama’s energy policies intended to do both – boosting Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh too. But is this really an economic reality? Perhaps not. “Green tech” manufacturing seems likelier to catch headwinds, i.e., manufacturing roles that place a heavy emphasis on innovation and other specialties, like low-carbon technology. But putting American steelworkers back to work building solar panels? Even with training and workforce investment, as U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis promised in this manufacturing summit on CNBC, this is a tall order. I’ll continue to entertain the idea (dream). But in the meantime, let’s not be surprised when we continue to lose certain types of jobs overseas – even better, let’s plan for it.

Gillibrand on Green Jobs: Good Ideas, But Still Too Political
March 9, 2010, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , ,

If this doesn’t capture the political culture surrounding federal efforts to stimulate green job creation…

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has all the right ideas on green job creation - but is still too political to acknowledge publicly a speaking engagement yesterday with Van Jones, Obama's former "green jobs" czar.

It started with a simple Google search. I was wondering whatever happened to Van Jones, the energetic “green jobs” czar that resigned from the Obama administration last fall amid criticism of his unfortunate association with 9/11 conspiracy groups. Less controversially, Jones also released a book last year, “Green Collar Economy,” that detailed the labor opportunities of a green tech renaissance.

I found two things in my search – one, Jones actually made a recent “comeback,” accepting both a teaching position at Princeton University and a fellowship at the Center for American Progress late last month. Second, I found an article by HuffPo business reporter Shahien Nasiripour, detailing Jones’s appearance just yesterday with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), at a conference on green job creation. Nasiripour reports Gillibrand’s statements included a branding of green jobs as “the greatest market opportunity of our generation,” and a call upon President Obama for a “shoot-for-the-moon” speech to rally greenies and skeptics alike on the pressing need for job creation in a new energy economy. It is a great piece – for two reasons. First, it captures the heady statements of a “green” Senator challenging the political status quo. Second, Nasiripour is just about the only one to report that these statements even occurred. Despite comparing the urgency of creating a green workforce to putting a man on the moon, there is absolutely no mention of Gillibrand’s speech on either her federal or electoral sites (Gillibrand is up for election this year, her first public election since NY Governor David Paterson appointed her to Hilary Clinton’s former seat last year.)

I found all this pretty odd. It’s not as if Gillibrand has been shy about the need to provide out-of-work Americans with new opportunities in cleantech and energy. Last January, she joined fellow New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to announce an $8 million federal grant to Rochester, NY-based PathStone Corporation. According to a release on her own site, “low income workers will be taught the skills required in high growth industries, including energy efficiency and renewable energy,” as a result of this grant. So why get all shy about her energetic statements at yesterday’s conference?

Unfortunately, I think the answer here is purely political. Another quick Google search shows Gillibrand caught some flak last month, from a potential Republican opponent, for committing to a speaking engagement alongside Jones, a man Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has previously decried as a “communist.” Sigh. I think Jones’s prior association with “truther” groups is pretty unfortunate, even stupid for a man with so much legitimate promise. The new rules for absolute human spotlessness in Washington – despite the fact that most humans, let alone politicians, are hardly spotless – probably did make Jones the wrong pick for a federal post. But let’s not let all this completely obstruct the fact that Jones has got a lot of really great ideas, ideas that have the potential to help any American, of any political party. Gillibrand should be communicating this at the highest volume – to put politics to bed and good ideas back in charge.

–Mia Lamar

Obama Uses Energy Workers At Their Desks to Frame (Literally) Jobs Remarks
March 6, 2010, 1:39 am
Filed under: jobs | Tags: , , ,

As a former student of electoral politics – and current student of energy economy – President Obama’s press conference at OPower, an Arlington, VA-based energy efficiency consultancy, last Friday caught my eye for two reasons.

President Obama pitched pieces of his jobs bill Friday standing in the office of OPower, a VA-based energy efficiency consultancy.

First, Obama delivered his remarks right in the middle of the OPower office, with OPower workers literally just standing at their desks to hear the President speak. Stepping up to a simple podium set in the middle of the room, Obama launched into his brief speech with a casual aside:

“Just looking around the room, this looks like a fun place to work,” he said, naturally drawing polite laughter. (When the POTUS gives a speech 10 feet from your desk, you laugh at his jokes.)

Visually, it was highly evocative of Obama’s message to put Americans to work at innovative companies like OPower. I liked it. No doubt, some politcal hand got a nice pat on the back for setting up that shot.

Second, the President delivered this speech on the heels of a weekly data report that found the economy lost 36,000 jobs for the final week of February – less than anticipated, but still bleak. Sticking to his message of the past couple months, the President eagerly emphasized the growth potential of companies like OPower. He claimed that the consultancy “doubled its workforce last year,” and “hopes to add another 100 workers this year.” He then touted his plan to offer a $5,000 tax credit for each additional hire companies make – a point he emphasized by bidding up, auctioneer style, OPower’s planned number of new hires, from “110…115…we’ll see,” to OPower CEO Daniel Yates standing off camera.

100 new workers at one firm in Virginia in one year – if OPower’s claims are valid, that would be a pretty rapid infusion to the workforce. I think this makes an important point. While large-scale projects like nuclear can provide good, high-paying jobs, the numbers I have seen for these massive projects cap at about a few thousand new workers. Energy beliefs aside, I think the combination of start-up psychology, (hopefully) significant growth potential and overall agility makes companies like OPower all the more powerful for development of the American workforce and human capital.

–Mia Lamar

Obama’s SOTU: Back to Basics
January 28, 2010, 9:00 pm
Filed under: Washington | Tags: , , , ,

Remember when Barack Obama was going to rebuild the crippled American economy with large-scale investments in a new energy economy and sustainable infrastructure? If you don’t recall, it’s probably because his best intentions were lost in the major meltdown that is health care reform.

In a State of the Union Address that swung from humbled to defiant, sometimes in the same sentence, it appeared our president is either renewing that promise, or some really good poll told him he should. Either way, the president lined his jobs-heavy speech last night with all sorts of references to building green energy industries.

In his own words: (via Baltimore Sun)

“We will build on the historic $80 billion investment made through the Recovery Act. The President’s vision includes investments in important technologies to diversity our energy sources and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, including:  the renewal of our nation’s nuclear energy industry after a 30-year hiatus, cutting edge biofuel and clean coal technologies, and additional offshore oil and gas drilling.  To fully transition to a clean energy economy and create millions of new American jobs, we must pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation to promote energy independence and address climate change.”

Right idea – now can we get the ball rolling on this (and pass health care too?)