Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shovel Ready, Prepared for Work

When a family member or friend loses a job I cannot help but feel the pain. There was a time when my future looked bright - yes I wore shades back then. Ray-Ban sun glasses with a crew cut and an aviator's confidence. With advanced degrees and strong references, lists of publications, there wasn't much that my shipmates, coworkers, and classmates wouldn't attempt.

Back then our nation was promised "Better Living Through Chemistry," and salaries of professionals in science and engineering were rising. What a shock, on my first research job after active duty and graduate school, when the team I had joined two years earlier was eliminated. Corporate budgets were cut; high-priced talent was fired. We scrambled to find work - moving to different states. We changed direction - heading for tobacco companies, software start-ups, night school teaching, college faculties. Our special skills in mineral processing R&D were scattered from the laboratory we had founded in Northern Illinois.

The Deep Recession of 2007-2010 will turn thousands of promising careers around and influence thousands more who are now choosing and preparing their dreams about the future. From a worker's perspective of over fifty years I have watched the daily and weekly newspapers. Every issue is loaded with housing foreclosures of failed mortgages from $40,000 to over half a million. Many commercial buildings are listed for sale or auction. Many billboards are blank. For the rich there are bargains to be snapped up. For the rest of us there is spreading sorrow and pain.

But this week, in the Aitkin Independent Age, I read the story of nearly $8 million of the $800 billion in federal stimulus money coming to Aitkin County. By far the largest share of our new federal funds is going to transportation projects that were "shovel ready." County Highway Engineer John Welle deserves great credit for guiding these paving and bridge-building contracts to our workers and businesses.

For individuals on edge at their workplaces and classrooms, there can't be too much preparation. A new skill, a new language, a network. Practice, study, hard work, and hope. Recovery is possible. More government stimulus certainly will help us all.

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