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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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Why Business Supports the Paris Accord: Sustainable Growth, Exponential Opportunity

President Donald Trump announced last Thursday that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris accord, a landmark 2015 global agreement to combat the devastating effects of climate change. Mr. Trump has generally viewed green energy as a constraint that curbs economic expansion, although employment figures, growth projections and financial data paint a different portrait. Regardless of one’s ideological or political stance toward ecological issues, the regulations and compacts that govern environmental oversight absolutely affect jobs. Yet, coal and oil are not likely to spark the employment bonanza of tomorrow. Our future wealth and our next generation’s opportunities will spring from exponential technologies -- many of which concentrate on digital ecosystems, health care, renewable power sources, and developing a sustainable world that benefits all inhabitants. Even if you think conservation is just the rallying cry of tree-hugging hippies, there’s a powerful economic case to be made for going green. Preserving the planet’s future plays an instrumental role in the future of business and talent acquisition.

Finite Resources, Finite Jobs

At the end of March, President Trump issued an executive order that rescinded the moratorium on coal exploration and production, while eliminating many Obama-era climate protections. The president has insisted that energy independence for fossil fuel industries, particularly coal, remains a key ingredient to economic growth. More importantly, he believes rolling back policies that limit pollution will save and create jobs.

As the New York Times wrote, “The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closing would probably stay open for a few years longer, extending the demand for coal, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming.”

However, Godby cautioned that job creation would still suffer because the industry relies heavily on machines to automate processes. “So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs,” he added.

The repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would also play a pivotal role. With more workers exposed to pneumoconiosis (black lung disease), and unable to afford or qualify for treatment, mine operators would likely face severe and expensive performance problems. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that health problems cost U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually in productivity losses.

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline was another highly touted employment generator. Its construction would certainly yield thousands of temporary roles. Yet after its completion, only 35 positions would be required to operate it. For contractors and staffing firms, TransCanada’s project could spell a lucrative one-year engagement. Afterward, those prospects become far less attractive with the lack of volume or demand for recurring placements.

Scott Pruitt, the current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also tried to depict the beleaguered coal industry as a jobs boom waiting to happen. During his appearance on “Meet the Press,” Pruitt claimed that the coal sector has added 50,000 jobs since the fourth quarter of last year. “In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs,” he said. Those figures would be impressive if they were accurate. The government’s own data show that coal added only 400 jobs. The numbers reflecting growth of 7,000 and 50,000 jobs covered the entire mining space, which incorporates gas, oil and metals.

Last week, administration officials tried again, praising the opening of the Acosta coal mine in Pennsylvania. This endeavor, disappointingly, would open 70 to 100 jobs. Tesla, meanwhile, has over 1,800 openings, once again attesting to the allure of exponential and renewable industries.

Green Energy, Evergreen Opportunities

Renewable energy markets are outpacing traditional power suppliers in terms of job growth. Strikingly, there are more domestic jobs in solar energy alone than in either oil-and-gas extraction or coal mining, according to a 2016 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA.

“Jobs in the solar industry grew 12 times as fast as overall job creation in the US economy,” the report noted. The country’s 209,000 solar industry jobs in 2015 outnumbered those in oil and gas extraction -- 187,200 -- and coal mining -- 67,929. The renewable sector in Europe alone could produce 6.1 million new jobs by 2050, according to Sustainlabour.

Studies by the College Board demonstrate that sustainability consultants occupy a field with an expected growth rate of 83 percent. And new career openings in environmental engineering will climb faster than the national average for all occupations through 2022.

Now let’s quickly revisit the struggling rural communities that have been told to place their faith in coal. While mines like the Acosta may benefit 70 to 100 workers, there are 30,000 unfilled jobs waiting nearby in the new-economy hubs of Pittsburgh and Louisville, Ky., as Daniel Gross points out in Slate. And what are these jobs? Most of them capitalize on the explosive momentum of exponential technologies.

  • Tracking air pollution for asthma sufferers
  • Unleashing new wellness and aging care solutions
  • Alternative energy
  • Materials science
  • 3D printing
  • Robotics
  • Cybersecurity
  • Nuclear medicine and more

The business potential for clean energy and exponentials is so awesome that famed oilman T. Boone Pickens, once dubbed the “Oracle of Oil,” began endorsing renewablesin 2008.

Representing Paris Is Representing Pittsburgh

Mr. Trump described his decision to abandon the Paris climate accord as a restoration of “American sovereignty,” which he said has suffered under the “draconian” financial and economic burdens of the pact. With this action, the president honored his vow to secede from the international environmental union. He also separated the United States from nearly every other nation on the globe, aligned only with Nicaragua and Syria as a non-participant. Believe it or not, even North Korea retains its membership.

Foreign heads of state lamented the announcement. Most agreed with Belgium’s Prime Minister, Charles Michel, that pulling away from the Paris accord defined a “brutal act” with wider repercussions for developing nations, according to the New York Times. Michel’s remarks referenced the Green Climate Fund, which is designed to help poor nations deal with the havoc of climate change. Trump took aim at the initiative, calling it a scheme to redistribute wealth. In reality, however, the fund leaves each country’s leaders free to decide how they will reduce emissions and how much they will contribute.

As Reuters reported, the president tapped into the “America First” message he campaigned on, saying, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” The truth is that representing the goals of Paris does represent the interests of talent in Pittsburgh. Developing new opportunities and keeping our competitive edge requires a commitment to globalization. We no longer transact business in national silos. We live and work in a world economy. Innovation and growth flourish when boundaries vanish. They’re stifled by isolation.

Many ongoing challenges in talent acquisition correlate directly to a shortage of workers skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). If we push them away by discounting fields in which they’ll thrive, we lose the game. And that’s not just hypothetical. Scientific advisers at the EPA did not have their contracts renewed. Scientists involved in alternative energy research for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency will not receive their funding.

Where will this qualified talent go? They may leave the country, possibly to France. Immediately following the announcement of our withdrawal from the Paris accord, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron performed a stunning feat of poaching by offering U.S. scientists refuge. In a short and impassioned message, Macron said:

“To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland.

“I call on them: come and work here with us. To work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment. I can assure you, France will not give up the fight.”

Solving the Trolley Problem

If you’ve taken an ethics class in college, you’ve probably encountered the dreaded trolley problem. In this thought experiment, a runaway trolley is barreling down the tracks toward five people who can’t move out of the way. You can switch the train to a different track, but there’s still one person on that line who’s also unable to flee. What do you do? About 90 percent of students elect to save the group of five. There is another approach to this conundrum, though: throw the switch and then push the stranded individual off the rail. 

The point is that solutions to challenges must never be black and white. Yet this is often the argument against focusing on green energy. What happens to the workers involved in coal and oil? The answer is that we move them once the switch is activated. Put another way, their skills are transferrable.

Adriaan Kamp runs a Dutch consultancy that advises national governments on transitioning to clean energy. And that’s surprising when you consider that he spent 17 years as a diehard oilman for Shell. Yet he recognized that for the energy sector to reach carbon neutrality by 2070, to avoid a dangerous temperature rise of more than two degrees celsius, hundreds of thousands of workers would need to embrace the new archetypes of renewables and exponential technologies.

The great news is that moving talent from fossil fuels to renewables is relatively painless, as the Guardian explained.

In terms of skills, transitioning from old to new energy sectors should be comparatively straightforward. There’s “no magic” to renewable technologies, says Kamp. “Managing a wind farm or solar project is nothing a good oil and gas man who has built or organised facilities cannot manage,” he says.

Sophie Bennett, policy officer for RenewableUK, agrees. Many of the technical and managerial needs of the low-carbon energy sector are similar to those in traditional energy and power industries, she says.

Individual States and Businesses Commit to the Paris Accord

Hawaii became the first state to enact its own law committing to the Paris accord. California signed an agreement with China to uphold the tenets of the pact. Industry giants such as Google, Apple and Amazon have also pledged their support to the campaign, along with hundreds of other businesses. Despite the current political administration’s decision to limit the wealth of opportunities available through alternative energy and exponential technologies, leaders devoted to the future of their businesses and talent are forging ahead. For staffing professionals, these green industries could easily become the next frontiers in a golden age of prosperity, vision and meaning.

Bret Bass
Bret Bass
Vice President of Special Operations
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