Stimulus Watch: “Workforce Ready” a Better Standard than “Shovel Ready”

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Christmas has come and gone, but in town halls and statehouses across America politicians are working feverishly on a wish list of projects they’d like included in the upcoming economic recovery package.  An argument they’re making in favor of these projects is that they are “shovel ready”.

I have to admit that as catchphrases go, “shovel ready” is a pretty good one. It conveys readiness and urgency–key factors in the design of economic stimulus and recovery packages.  And at some deep subconscious level it probably generates warm memories of Bob the Builder. But “shovel ready,” as the sole litmus test for obtaining federal funding, has some significant drawbacks and needs to be scrapped.

As a label, it says nothing about the potential job creation associated with a given project, or how that potential compares with other ways of doing business.  It says nothing about project quality, environmental or otherwise.  It fails to indicate whether the project is in keeping with the core strategy of the recovery package–a recovery powered by the transition to a new, less-carbon intensive, clean energy economy.  It’s like a food label that tells you your meal can be ready in three minutes, but doesn’t reveal how many calories are in the package, and whether it is any good for you.

We should replace “shovel ready” with “workforce ready,” a new phrase referring to well-paying jobs that endure and grow in a new energy economy.  “Workforce ready” projects will be better job creators than other ways of doing business.  They will provide for upward mobility rather than a guaranteed dead end status.  “Workforce ready” projects will be environmentally sustainable and less carbon intensive.  They will represent the kind of opportunity for which we are creating a new workforce in America; in this case a green collar one that can compete and flourish in a world shaped by global trade, economic crisis, and environmental concern.

Workforce ready is but one idea among many for safeguarding the good governance of the coming stimulus. Please look at the attachment for a full list of recommended safeguards that would ensure federal recovery funds are spent effectively, and in keeping with the transition to a new energy economy.  It’s true we will need shovels to build this new economy.  But we’ll also use caulk guns, energy efficient appliances, insulation, and other tools and technologies of the clean energy trades.  Now is the time for the federal government to invest in this new economy.  “Workforce ready” is the most effective filter for determining how it does so.