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NTSB Calls for Full Ban on In-Car Phone Use


distracted driving lawsAnd in my humble opinion, it's about time this issue was addressed on the Federal level.  As far as I know, the States have had their own authority on whether to put a law on the book regarding this issue, but a statement issued by the NTSB could very well be the catalyst to restoring order and safety to our highways.

From CNN:

Federal accident investigators Tuesday called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving.

The recommendation is the most far-reaching yet by the National Transportation Safety Board, which in the past 10 years has increasingly sought to limit the use of portable electronic devices. It has recommended such bans for novice drivers, school bus drivers and commercial truckers.

The new recommendation, if adopted by states, would outlaw non-emergency phone calls and texting by operators of every vehicle on the road.

It would not apply to hand-free devices or to passengers.

We've addressed cell phone laws from the risk management as well as the legal standpoint on this blog before, but our commentary has always been of someone in the state of Connecticut.  CT Cell Phone Laws, Distracted Driver Penalties , OSHA & Distracted Driving 

This legislation, if successful, will have far reaching risk management implications on every company policy, handbook, and insurance program.  The announcement today by the NTSB follows the results of an investigation in which a 19 year old driver was found to have sent 6 texts, and received 5 in the 10 minutes prior to causing an accident that killed him, a 15 year old student, and injured another 38.  LINK 

Obviously, with legislation that is this far reaching, there will be complaints that the "constitution is being stepped on"  "big brother is extending his reach further" and it probably won't be pushed through on the Federal level in the next 6 months.  However, there are already 35 states with bans on texting and of those 35, 10 have full bans on the use of all handheld devices.  I feel with that momentum on the national level, and this recommendation by the NTSB, it won't take much for the remaining 15 states to get on board.  However, as anyone that has driven in CT knows, these laws are only as good as their enforcement. 

Now, about the whole risk management and insurance angle of this...if this becomes a national law, or some derivative therein, there will be clauses, endorsements, and changes to many business auto and workers' comp policies regarding who will be liable if an on-duty employee causes an accident because they were on their phone.  It's much too early to speculate on how that will shake down, but much like the hard market, it's coming.  Thanks for not reading this while you were driving.

Winter Storm Alfred 2011 and Hiring Residential Contractors


connecticut halloween stormIf you have electricity and are reading this, congrats!  After the perfect combination of huge amounts of wet snow combined with trees still covered with leaves, many in the Northeast were left in the dark. In the State of Connecticut, now six days since the storm, 300,000 households are still operating without electricity.

In addition to finding someone to blame for the lack of power, there is the added concern of how you will get your home repaired, and how will you get all of these trees and branches out of your yard? (Some of the following statements are generalizations.  All homeowner's policies are different in the scope of what they cover.  Please contact your insurance agent or carrier for clarification.) If a tree or branch is touching, partially inside of, or sitting on top of your home, deck, porch, garage, fence, etc., your homeowner's insurance policy will most likely pay for the part of the tree to be removed from where it is and either chopped and thrown in the woods, or removed.  To clarify, trees lying in your yard are not covered, and will not be removed unless they are touching a covered structure.  I doubt we'll see it happen in the aftermath of the Halloween Storm of 2011, but certain claims can be denied if the homeowner was neglegent in protecting the property from further damage after the loss.

Getting back to the reason I started this post in the first place was to warn homeowners about shady contractors.  If you live in an area with significant tree damage, and widespread power outages, you should consider yourself the prey of contractors. There are still plenty of reputable contractors pounding the pavement and knocking on doors asking to help with repairs.  With that in mind, here's a few things to ask and look for, if and when someone comes knocking.

Ask them to provide a certificate of insurance that lists both General Liability and Workers' Compensation.  If they balk on this request or say they "will get it to you", consider that your biggest red flag.  Any legitimate contractor will have this documentation with them.  All of the contractors that have contracts with insurance companies to do repair and restoration work carry these coverages.  If they don't have these coverages, YOUR homeowner's policy or YOU personally could be stuck paying for any additional damage, or on the job injuries that happen. If the contractor does shoddy work, there is no coverage for completed operations either.

Workers' compensation laws in Connecticut add an interesting twist to the certificate of insurance angle.  By state law, a sole proprietor of an LLC is legally allowed to exclude themselves from carrying workers' comp.  However, they are in violation of this if they bring anyone on the jobsite to help them.  Look at the scope of the work, and ask yourself if a single person would be able to remove a 400 pound branch from the roof of your two-story house without any assistance.  What I'm getting it, is if they say they don't have to carry it, but have a helper with them, look for alternatives.  (Link to another post I wrote about this)

In a perfect world, every contractor would carry the right kinds of insurance and be on the up and up, but due to the scope of damge, in addition to delays by insurance companies sending out their own contractors to do the work, here are a few suggestions to find a reputable contractor to help with your storm cleanup.  (These are just opinions, and have no basis on the laws of Connecticut or the views of my employer)

Does their vehicle have a company name on it?

Does the person who is doing the 'estimating' have a business card with an email address or office phone #?

If yes, does this business card have their contractor license # on it?

What happens when you Google their company name?

Does their company have a website, or any legitimate online presence?  

Are they listed on Angie's list or  

Are their reviews positive?

Do they have a list of testimonials from other customers?

Are they wearing hardhats or safety glasses?

Do they have an OSHA 10 card in their wallet? (not required for residential contractors to have, but if they do, at least you know that they are up to date on safety regulations)


Lastly, those are just a few things to keep in mind if someone comes asking if they can help clean up after Winter Storm Alfred. My aim wass not to dump on residential contractors, it was aimed to help homeowners protect themselves, and some loose suggestions for hiring reputable contractors to repair storm damaged homes and to remove trees and debris from their yards.  I know that the residential construction segment isn't setting any records right now, but I also know that the homeowner could be liable for a lot more than they bargained for when hiring an uninsured guy with a chainsaw and a pickup truck.

Please comment if you have any suggestions, or are a Connecticut contractor that is able to help folks get their lives and property back in order.

New Employee Rights Posting (legislation delayed until 1/31/2012)



Hang this poster by January 31, 2012(updated)

As of November 14, 2011(now 1/31/2012, most private sector employers are required to post a notice advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The 11-by-17-inch notice should be posted in a conspicuous place, where other notifications of workplace rights and employer rules and policies are posted.

The posters are available below for download and printing. Copies also are available from any of the agency’s regional offices. In addition, employers should publish the notice on an internal or external website if other personnel policies or workplace notices are posted there.

For further information about the posting, including a detailed discussion of which employers are covered by the NLRA, and what to do if a substantial share of the workplace speaks a language other than English, please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Poster Downloads

Are you sending out accurate Certificates of Insurance?


Certificates of Insurance updates and suggestions.  Please take all commentary with a grain of salt depending on the state you perform work in, and because there are exceptions to the majority of what I wrote below...

1.  If an upstream party has a 10 million dollar umbrella, and expects all their subs to carry limits equal to or in excess than that, they need to be flexible about changing subcontracts to reflect a realistic limit requirement that smaller subcontractors carry.  We've found this to be a fairly easy push back when our subs are being asked to carry limits that are excessively high for the type of work they do, or their scope of work for a particular project. If you don't push back, and have a large claim, there can be severe breach of contract problems because you are out of compliance with what you signed.

2.  The standard Acord certificate of insurance has been updated.  There are no more endeaver to's, or 10, 30, 60, or 90 day notice of cancellation fields.  If you're the upstream party, request the downstream party to attach the endorsement on their policy that states their policy's cancellation clause.  Check with your agent/lawyer, and have them update the sample certificate you provide your subs with to comply with the new industry standard version.  The insurance industry is still working out some of the kinks, and this gets complicated because different states have different reporting periods.  Sometimes they can even be different for each line of coverage, so check with your agent.  One big thing to remember, is that the only entity that will be informed of this cancelation is the 1st named insured, usually the cert holder.  So if you have a description of ops listing 15 gov't entities, LLCs, holding companies, architects, owners, and whomever else, the only one that is getting a notification of cancelation is the company whose name is in the cert holder field.

3.  Additional Insured.  If your subcontractors are naming or listing your company as additional insured in the description of ops, do not assume that you are an additional insured without asking for a copy of the AI endorsement on your sub's GL, Auto, and Umbrella policies.  And in CT at least, you cannot be added as additional insured on your sub's work comp policy so stop asking! 

4.  Waiver of Subrogation.  Just like with additional insured status, a sub can't just write in the description of ops that a waiver of subrogation applies in favor of additional insureds and it grants you that waiver.  Ask to see the endorsement on their policy for proof that their policy actually includes this coverage.  Part of this responsibility lies on your agent or broker because they are the primary issuer of you certificates, and if they are writing in coverages that you don't actually have, it could get them in big trouble with their Errors and Omissions carrier, and potentially leave you with an unpaid claim. If your agent is doing this, we'd be happy to be your new agent.

5.  One last thing suggestion that applies to both Additional Insured and Waivers of Subrogation.  If you don't have it already, get both of these coverage added to your policy in a Blanket form and/or "when required by written contract".  There are two reasons for this.  1.  You don't have to worry about adding separate endorsements to your policy every time you grant additional insured status to another party you're contracting with.  2.  It's cheaper and easier to buy a blanket Waiver of Subrogation, than it is to buy it on a project by project basis.  By adding these endorsements in a blanket format, it also eliminates the possibility that you forget to call your insurance carrier or agent to have separate parties added for a specific project which could leave you with either an uninsured claim, a breach of contract, or both.

If you love certificates as much as we do, here's a great resource on best practices and suggestions for compliance. 


Sorry for laying all this on you on a Monday morning.  Give us a call if we can help clarify, or if you need help getting your certificates and risk transfer system working more efficiently.

Can you fire an employee while they are out on a workers' comp claim?


Can you fire someone while they are out on a Workers’ Comp claim?  Yes….but be careful and cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s before you do!

You can terminate a workers’ comp claimant as long as they are not protected by any other laws.  So before moving forward with the termination you must determine the following:

                Is the claimant protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

                Is the claimant covered under the ADA laws?

                Is the claimant being terminated for any other discriminatory reason?

Now, once you’ve covered all those points you still need to assess the consequences of the termination.

Negative Consequences can include the possibility that a Workers’ comp Commissioner might be more sympathetic toward an unemployed claimant and/or the length a claimant is out of work may exceed the norm due to the fact that they don’t have a job to return to.

Conversely, the positive side is you may be able to terminate a poor-performer/problem employee.

construction risk advisorsRemember, the most important thing is documentation, documentation, documentation!  If you are terminating any employee, claimant or otherwise, make sure you have written records of poor performance evaluations and conversations, documents of attendance abuse, etc.  And we highly recommend you contact your lawyer prior to issuing that termination!

Workers' Compensation Newbies


The Hartford just came out with a very simple guide to help small business owners understand how workers' compensation works, and why your business should be carrying it. 

Link to Work Comp Guide

If you read the guide and want to learn more about the exciting world of contractors workers' comp, we've written an article or two about it!

Getting Injured Workers Back to Work

Back to the Basics: Workers' Compensation

The High Costs of Late Claim Reporting

Every Contractor With a Family Should Buy Workers' Compensation Insurance

Google+ Plus for Contractors



google plus constructionSince its launch two weeks ago, Google+ has added 10 million users and expects to add another 10 million before the weekend.  Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which have both been established social media platforms for several years, Google+ is brand new and is the first real competition for Facebook.  After 5 days of use, my 'circles' are still fairly small, participation and posting is significantly less active than either of the aforementioned platforms, and there seems to be a general confusion of what to do after you get a login. 

And therein lies an opportunity.  An opportunity for someone active in their industry to carve out a big niche before your competition gets on board.  When Facebook first started have 'fan pages', not many companies jumped on board, because Facebook was viewed as something that people use to tell their friends what they had for lunch.  The same people said the same thing about Twitter before it became a legitimate outlet for breaking news and industry specific discussions. 

At the moment, Google+ isn't allowing business pages, but they are allowing businesses to sign up now for when this feature goes live later this year.  This is a feature that Facebook has had for a few years now, and everyone and their brother's companies have one.  On the B2B side, most of these pages are pretty generic, are predominantly 'liked' by the friends of the page's creator rather than customers, clients, and vendors; and after the first month of going live, have very little activity or interaction from people other than the page's creator or the employees of the company.  And almost none of them have converted a sale from their Facebook page.

What I envision the upside of Google's business page to be, is that people searching on Google for a product or service will find your company's Google business page and/or your website.  Either one is a win.  They will find it via a search that recognizes keywords and terms that aren't identical to your company name the way that Facebook's search does.  In an industry like construction, I'd be surprised if a project owner or homeowner goes to Facebook prior to Google when researching a GC, subcontractors, material suppliers, etc.   (my rose-colored glasses aren't thick enough to think that they won't go to their existing networks of humans prior to searching the internet...but I digress)

The other upside I see, is that many companies block employee access to Facebook.  If all your online marketing eggs are in the Facebook basket, how is a project manager, CEO, CFO, or other important decision maker going to find you?  They won't.  They'll find your competitor that has a Google business page and a website that is indexed by Google.  As time goes by, Facebook will still lead the B2C side of things because people follow and support local businesses that promote deals, coupons, special events, etc.  I believe Google will be the differentiator for professional services and big-ticket transactions. 

Before writing this post, I reached out to a few friends who are early adopters of new technology (the kind of people who camp out at Apple stores).

A few comments that are relevant to this post:

--Our company had us all get Gmail email address so we can utilize the Gchat feature for interoffice dialogue.

--We already do teleconferencing, and the Hangout feature's ability to have 10 people/cameras on a call will save us $$ on IT

--Facebook is blocked at my work, Google is not

--G+ is a fresh start.  It's much easier to segment my contacts than it is on Facebook

This platform is brand new.  Google has a track record of failed launches (Google buzz, Orkut, Google wave), but has had recent success with Google Music and the initial reaction to Google+ has been positive.  Like any new technology, it will have detractors and people who refuse to spend the time to understand it or will wait until everyone they know is on it.  In the long run, I think this platform would be worth betting on.  Especially if you are a Business to Business company.

If you've got any thoughts one way or another, I'd love to have a conversation with you about it.  Please post in the comments below or look me up on Google +.  If you're already on Google + and liked this post, please click the +1 button at the top right of this page.

About the author:

Dan Phelan runs the marketing department at Construction Risk Advisors when he's not out helping his clients with risk management and insurance issues.  If you want to connect on twitter, he's at @fixyourrisk, here on Facebook, and at on Google+

dan phelan litchfield insurance group

Stricter Connecticut Cell Phone Laws Coming Soon


distracted driving constructionThis isn't the first time we've talked about behind the wheel cell phone use here on the CRA Blog, and it probably won't be the last.  For our out of state readers, you can probably skip this one since it only covers Connecticut cell phone law legislation. 

We know that behind the wheel cell phone use without the use of hands-free device has been a ticketable offense in CT since 2005 when Gov. Rell signed the legislation that made CT one of the first states with this type of law on the books.  Up until 2010, the law has been haphazardly enforced (IMO) and fines of $100 haven't been a strong enough deterrent to curb usage. 

Here is what the current legislation/fines look like:

Current prohibitions:

  • Texting outlawed for all drivers. Fines $100, then $150 and $200.
  • Adult drivers (18 and older) must use hands-free devices while talking on cell phones or using a “mobile electronic device.” Fines for handheld cell phone use $100/$150/$200.
  • Minors are prohibited from using wireless phones or other mobile electronic device while driving — with or without hands-free devices. $100 fine.
  • School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving. $100 fine.
  • Use of video game players and DVD players banned for drivers.

New legislation for 2011 that has already passed the Joint Committee on Judiciary:

HB 6366: Would require law officers writing a summons under electronic distracted driving laws to seize and suspend driver’s license for 24-hour period, if there is a previous conviction. Increases penalties for second and subsequent violations to up to $500 plus possibility of three months’ imprisonment. First offense fines remain at $100. Latest legislative action: Approved by the Joint Committee on Judiciary in a 23-20 vote on April 14. (Judiciary Committee)

HB 6366 was approved, narrowly, by the Judiciary Committee on April 14. The panel decided to reword the bill so that police “may” impound repeat offenders’ drivers licenses — instead of “shall.” Rep. John W. Hetherington said the legislation that he proposed included the seizures so that, “If you violate the law, you take some risk and that might include a severe sanction.” Hetherington, R-New Canaan, is the ranking member of the committee.

Reps. William Tong and John Hetherington, who both represent New Canaan, are co-sponsors of each other’s distracted driving bills (above).

Law enforcement officers in Hartford conducted their final sweep of cell phone and texting violators, a crackdown that ran through March 4. The federal Department of Transportation funded the pilot campaign, which began in spring 2010 in Hartford and Syracuse, N.Y. In the “Phone in one hand. Ticket in the other” campaign’s three previous sweeps, 7,200 tickets were handed out in Hartford.

The town of New Canaan is fed up with distracted drivers. Local officials and police are studying the possibility of confiscating handheld cell phones from violators of the state law. Police stopped more than 150 motorists for talking on their cell phones between June and September 2010, as part of a local campaign against distracted drivers

If you can afford to own a car and a cell phone, you can probably afford a $100 citation.  However, the loss of license for 24 hours in conjunction with a $500 fine for the 2nd infraction and every subsequent one, is the type of penalty that might finally get some people to buy a bluetooth.


Oh ya, back to the whole insurance and risk management thing.  A $100 fine is one thing, having one of your employees whose primary job responsibility is driving a vehicle lose their license for 24 hours is a horse of another color.  In this economy, the last thing a contractor needs is for the driver of a "heavy" to get pulled over in the 24 hours their license was suspended.  Not the kind of public relations issue anyone wants to deal with. Not to mention what the repercussions for a CDL holder might be.  Need help putting together a cellphone policy for your construction company?  Give us a call at 800-252-9864.


Here's a few other posts we've written about CT driving laws

New Move Over Law in CT

Distracted Driving

Hang Up & Drive



Safety Tips for the Summer Heat


Ted Stryker sweating resized 600It's coming folks!  The weatherman is calling for temperatures in the upper 90's-low 100's to end the week here in Connecticut, and if you're stuck working outside, here's a few suggestions to stay safe:

Drink Plenty of Fluids

During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.

Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Don't drink liquids that contain alcohol, or large amounts of sugar—these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

Replace Salt and Minerals

Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen

Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.

Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully

If you must be outdoors, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body's thermostat will have a chance to recover.

Pace Yourself

If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

Stay Cool Indoors

Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

Use a Buddy System

When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.

Monitor Those at High Risk

Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.

  • Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids.
  • People 65 years of age or older may not compensate for heat stress efficiently and are less likely to sense and respond to change in temperature.
  • People who are overweight may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.
  • People who overexert during work or exercise may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.

Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

Adjust to the Environment

Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. If you travel to a hotter climate, allow several days to become acclimated before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.  Info from

Mike Rowe Testifies Before the Senate Commerce Committee


We mentioned in a previous blog post that this blog is now being featured on Mike Rowe's TradesHub.

Mike himself had some very insightful things to say in the Senate recently, that we feel is worth of reposting here. 

Original article is here:



Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of this committee, my name is Mike Rowe, and I want to thank you all very much for the opportunity to share a few thoughts about our country’s relationship with manufacturing, hard work, and skilled labor.

I’m here today because of my Grandfather.

His name was Carl Knobel, and he made his living in Baltimore as a Master Electrician. He was also a plumber, a mechanic, a mason, and a carpenter. Everyone knew him as a jack-of-all-trades. I knew him as a magician.

For most of his life, my grandfather woke up clean and came home dirty. In between, he accomplished things that were nothing short of miraculous. Some days he might re-shingle a roof. Or rebuild a motor. Or maybe run electricity out to our barn. He helped build the church I went to as a kid, and the farmhouse my brothers and I grew up in. He could fix or build anything, but to my knowledge he never once read the directions. He just knew how stuff worked.

I remember one Saturday morning when I was twelve. I flushed the toilet in the same way I always had. The toilet however, responded in a way that was completely out of character. There was a rumbling sound, followed by a distant gurgle. Then, everything that had gone down reappeared in a rather violent and spectacular fashion.
Naturally, my grandfather was called in to investigate, and within the hour I was invited to join he and my Dad in the front yard with picks and shovels.

By lunch, the lawn was littered with fragments of old pipe and mounds of dirt. There was welding and pipe-fitting, blisters and laughter, and maybe some questionable language. By sunset we were completely filthy. But a new pipe was installed, the dirt was back in the hole, and our toilet was back on its best behavior. It was one of my favorite days ever.

Thirty years later in San Francisco when my toilet blew up again. This time, I didn’t participate in the repair process. I just called my landlord, left a check on the kitchen counter, and went to work.  When I got home, the mess was cleaned up and the problem was solved. As for the actual plumber who did the work, I never even met him.

It occurred to me that I had become disconnected from a lot of things that used to fascinate me. I no longer thought about where my food came from, or how my electricity worked, or who fixed my pipes, or who made my clothes. There was no reason to. I had become less interested in how things got made, and more interested in how things got bought.

At this point my grandfather was well into his eighties, and after a long visit with him one weekend, I decided to do a TV show in his honor. Today, Dirty Jobs is still on the air, and I am here before this committee, hoping to say something useful. So, here it is.

I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening Skills Gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The Skills Gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.

Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch, that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree.  And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber – if you can find one – is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

I came here today because guys like my grandfather are no less important to civilized life than they were 50 years ago. Maybe they’re in short supply because we don’t acknowledge them they way we used to. We leave our check on the kitchen counter, and hope the work gets done. That needs to change.

My written testimony includes the details of several initiatives designed to close The Skills Gap, all of which I’ve had the privilege to participate in. Go Build Alabama, I Make America, and my own modest efforts through Dirty Jobs and mikeroweWORKS. I’m especially proud to announce “Discover Your Skills,” a broad-based initiative from Discovery Communications that I believe can change perceptions in a meaningful way.

I encourage you to support these efforts, because closing The Skills Gap doesn’t just benefit future tradesmen and the companies desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me, and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.

The Skills Gap is a reflection of what we value.  To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.

Mike Rowe
May 11, 2011

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