Jargon Watch: "Workforce Ready" vs "Shovel Ready"

mike mulligan image

Stewart Hudson at Solve Climate makes a good point: Everyone is talking about Shovel Ready projects to get the economy moving, but in modern new construction and infrastructure, a lot of the work is done by heavy machinery and the labor input isn't that big compared to the material input. Mary Anne the steam shovel can move tons and build cities but it just needs Mike to operate it. Hudson writes:

mike with mary anne image

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.


Stewart County Courthouse, Georgia, renovated and preserved by the WPA in 1935

Take construction. Donovan Rypkema notes that new construction is about 50-50 labour and materials, whereas restoration and renovation can be as much as 75% labour- for every dollar spent you get twice as much local employment, and use about half the resources. That's because workers are using their hands instead of big machines.

"This labor intensity affects a local economy on two levels. First, we buy an HVAC system from Ohio and lumber from Idaho, but we buy the services of the plumber, the electrician, and the carpenter from across the street. Further, once we hang the drywall, the drywall doesn't spend any more money. But the plumber gets a hair cut on the way home, buys groceries, and joins the YMCA — each recirculating that paycheck within the community."

Stewart Hudson concludes:

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.

More at SolveClimate
The Carbon Footprint of a Renovation vs New Construction
Renovation Uses Twice As Much Labor, Half as Much Material as New ...
Quote of the Day: Bill McDonough on Green Renovation
Martin Liefhebber on Embodied Energy of Existing Buildings
ReFab Now: We Can Solve It Gets Renovation
The Greenest Brick is the One That's Already in the Wall
GreenBuild: Richard Moe Has a Tough Row to Hoe
At Least Some American Infrastructure Investment Doesn't Involve Cars
Preservation is Sustainability

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