NY State Sen: Workers Made Jobless By Coronavirus Can Be Trained in Construction Trades
But its underlying truth should make us rethink how we pull more Americans into the new economy post-coronavirus, even as we ponder how to teach new skills to confront the pandemic -- and its economic effects -- right now.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy's proposal to speed the retraining of laid off medical workers and others who are unemployed, so they can care for the sick and build more hospital capacity, makes obvious sense for the near term.
Assuming the logistics of widespread training in an era of social distancing can be worked out -- and with online and other options, they don't seem insurmountable -- it could be both a practical and psychological boon just when we need it. Beyond addressing the shortages of health care workers and facilities, it evokes a "can do" spirit that reminds us we are not helpless in the face of the virus and that we can do more than just stay home and lock our doors.
In pushing retraining higher up the agenda, the Buffalo Democrat cites as one example certified nursing aides, a profession that provides basic patient care and that, unlike others in the medical field, does not require months or years of preparation. Kennedy notes there already was a shortage of such aides.
"If we are able to quickly train new employees to go to work on the front lines ... we will have closed the gap," he said.
Kennedy is not talking about cutting corners on training, just accelerating it, with distancing and other safety guidelines taking "utmost precedence."
Similarly, others who are out of work could be quickly trained in the construction trades -- long a source of controversy around here, especially among blacks who have felt shut out -- to help build the pop-up hospitals he noted are springing up in other countries. Those nations are ahead of the United States on the virus curve, but their efforts illustrate where we will be in a few weeks. So we might as well get ready.
As with any new proposal, and especially one arising out of an immediate crisis, details have to be worked out. And though he has 28 Senate cosigners on a letter to the governor, he has not yet begun talks with Assembly members.
But Kennedy points to the emergency powers the Legislature already granted the governor as a way to get this moving quickly, with lawmakers then approving whatever funding is needed -- they've already passed one $40 million emergency appropriation -- as part of the upcoming budget.
"There's a way to connect the dots here," he said of the need to retrain in a hurry, both to meet medical needs and to provide jobs amid widespread closures.
But one reason so many people are so economically desperate now is that they had nothing in the bank to fall back on to begin with. While retraining has long been a buzz word and programs such as those at the Northland center have emerged, jobs were still going begging while certain segments of the population were still on the sidelines because they lacked the skills to do what was needed.
Once this health crisis passes, those people could be right where they are now, despite President Trump's call to "open for business" -- a call no doubt more tied to his fear of what an economic slowdown will do to his re-election chances than to any concern about the types of workers or small-business owners he regularly stiffed as a developer.
Just as we had shortages of nurses aides before the virus hit, we had shortages of opportunity for the underskilled in all fields even when the economy was open for business. Kennedy's focus on retraining is especially timely now, but we need to make the same type of commitment -- buttressed by a living wage -- once we reach the other side of the Covid-19 curve.
Otherwise, even though the virus will pass, hard times for many Western New Yorkers will not.
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