I’m writing a Department of Labor (DOL) America’s Promise Job Driven Grant Program proposal this weekend. There’s nothing remarkable about that, except that a close reading of the RFP reveals that the DOL has completely abandoned their interest in “green jobs” (this is somewhat odd, given that the DOL’s fascination with green jobs happened before solar panels, for example, really took off, and before commercial home electricity storage got going). The new job training kids on the block are “H-1B industries and occupations.”
Those of you outside of the tech industry may be wondering what that means. “H-1B” refers to a type of visa that allows non-US residents to enter the US temporarily to work in occupations for which there are supposedly not enough qualified American workers. While H-1B visas cover a plentitude of occupations, for purposes of this post, we’ll just think about them as tech-related jobs like engineers, coders, scientists, Flux Capacitor mechanics, and so on.
Almost every DOL RFP these days is full of H-1B references, and so are other federal proposals related to job training. But if we take a trip in Doc Brown’s souped up DeLorean back to 2009, we’d encounter a very different job training landscape.
For those of you who been on Tatooine or playing Pokemon Go for the last few years, 2009 was the height of the Great Recession and the start of the Stimulus Bill, or, as we called it, the Grant Writers Full Employment Act. Most of this $900 million of orgasmic Federal spending was directed at job training and workforce development in some way. Virtually every Federal job training RFP from 2008 to 2011 required training in green jobs. The problem was that no one, including us, actually knew what a green job was, so we just made it up. This worked, since the Federal program officers also weren’t sure what constituted a green job. We wrote a lot about weatherization, “smart windows,” and energy efficiency.
Most people would agree that Elon Musk’s Gigafactory supports electric vehicles and therefore the engineers and robot technicians housed there work in green jobs. Still, the factory will need janitors and cafeteria workers, and they might actually outnumber the engineers. Are the janitors and cafeteria workers green workers? While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) eventually came up with a green job definition, the definition was so vague as to be meaningless—perfect for grant writers.
Still, this no longer matters much, because Congress and Federal bureaucrats are a fickle bunch and green jobs have mostly disappeared from RFPs. Instead, we’re on to H1-B occupations. Fortunately for grant writers, other than requiring at least a baccalaureate, the US Citizen and Immigration Services’ H-1B jobs definition isn’t any more specific that the BLS definition of green jobs.
In DOL job training grant land, however, one doesn’t actually train people to qualify as H-1B workers, since there isn’t enough time or money for trainees to get a four-year degree. Plus, four-year engineering degrees have steep dropout curves and are tough to get. Most of those targeted by DOL programs don’t have the prerequisites for those kinds of degrees. Instead, DOL-funded training is for precursor jobs requiring a certificate or credential of some sort that might lead the person to completing a four-year degree and actually working in a H-1B job—some day.
The job training RFPs these days, and the workforce development proposals we write, have no more to to with H-1B jobs than, for example, the funded $1 million Department of Energy grant to train “weatherization specialists” we wrote in 2009 had to do with green jobs. These RFPs are primarily walkin’ around money for job training providers.