Thursday, October 13, 2011

Energy Talent Shortage

China is hungry. Japan is shying away from nuclear power. Australia is trying to feed both countries and a load of others with its wealth of natural resources. The choke point in this bonanza is the talent pipeline:

The demand for highly specialized skills means that an experienced offshore welding inspector can make more than $2,000 a day, about twice as much as in the Gulf of Mexico, said Dane Groeneveld, a regional director for NES Global Talent, which recruits labor for several big LNG projects in Australia.

"We can't grow quickly enough to support the demand for staff," Mr. Groeneveld said.

Some major contractors like Bechtel Corp., which is building three LNG plants on Australia's Curtis Island for different operators, have forecast a need to import electricians and welders. But Australia has tough restrictions on granting visas to foreign workers, and companies must also contend with local unions who have complained about contracts going offshore.

Emphasis added. The obvious answer is to import skilled labor. The unemployment picture in Australia is relatively good. Yet the tolerance for more immigrants is at a nadir. Unfortunately, workforce development can't keep up with the demand.

I think the geoeconomic sands have shifted enough to seriously consider the prospects of exporting US talent to places such as Australia. Labor mobility is much better here and all the shale hype will have workers lining up for training. The problem with mining jobs is the boom-bust cycle. You have to be willing to go where the jobs are.

Given the persistent jobless recovery, moving to China is increasingly an option:

"I just got tired of how the economy was going back home. I just figured things had to better somewhere else," said Francine, a former real estate agent in Las Vegas who recently moved to Xi'an, in central China, for work.

She has two jobs, but says her standard of living is a little bit better than when she left Nevada. "It's kind of ironic -- the middle class in China is growing while the middle class in America is shrinking."

Francine, who spoke with on condition of anonymity, had never been to China before making the decision to move there with her husband, and she doesn’t speak Chinese. But she's found enough locals who speak her language, and "when I meet someone who doesn't speak English, I play charades with them." The couple moved into a small one-bedroom apartment where he works in the import/export business, and she works constantly as a freelance magazine writer and at a learning center. She said she was surprised by the difference she felt immediately in the way her new neighbors treated her. ...

... “After the market crashed, the only jobs that were available were temp jobs, or jobs with very high turnover. Either way, I knew that I could not get by like that or even dare to save money,” Francine said. “So, after a grueling two month debate with myself, I finally decided to sell what little I had left of my belongings and put the rest in a small storage unit…and armed with $300, I flew to China.”

That's a daring migration tale, one you usually see for people moving to the United States. From the standpoint of geographic arbitrage, the risk makes a lot of sense. You don't need to live in an expensive global city to make money in a Creative Class enterprise.

Talent crams into New York City not because of same great return on personal or career development. People take a swing at the Big Apple because of the Frank Sinatra song. Make it in the world's #1 place. That's the draw.

The Great Reset has damaged the luster of that mythology. Today's biggest risk takers are leaving the States and rolling the dice in China or some other emerging economic power. By comparison, New York is a conservative play that will cost you dearly. The future of the Creative Class is elsewhere, in China. If you can't bring yourself to take on such a big risk, I recommend New Brunswick.

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