February 12, 2012 in Opinion

The Road Ahead series: Where do we go from here?

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Working at a job is a fundamental of modern American life. In today’s economy, having a job is often simply a sign of success or survival, a validation of our talent and skills. For many, being gainfully employed provides a feeling of self-worth. Having a job is essential to providing for ourselves and our families.

Given the dramatic changes brought about by the Great Recession, we’ve decided that the most important subject we can write about this year is jobs and the economy, so we’re embarking on a frequent series of articles called the Road Ahead. A number of our reporters will be looking at a variety of aspects and influences on the regional job market and the economy. Veteran business reporter John Stucke today kicks off our coverage with an in-depth look at the current state of manufacturing, long a staple of the Inland Northwest economy.

Scott Maben, a deputy city editor, will be directing the coverage. Maben reports that we have an ambitious coverage agenda, ranging from the encouraging signs of job development and opportunities as well as a frank examination of what’s working and what’s not. Maben said the project’s philosophy is very basic: “We want to show readers what’s changed, for better or worse, permanently, as a result of the Great Recession.” The reporting team will be talking to local experts, business people and workers to help readers understand how the workforce and job candidates need to think about going forward.

Among the many questions we’ll be posing in the months ahead are:

• What kind of jobs will the thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan find upon returning to civilian life?

• How do older job-seekers compete in an employer’s market where low pay may trump experience?

• Are local government officials and business and industry leaders doing enough to boost economic development and job creation?

• What options will there be for those whose unemployment benefits have expired, and how do they cope with the strain of prolonged unemployment?

• How are workers adapting to emerging and evolving industries?

• What kind of training or education should young people or mid-career folks consider as they look to the short-term future?

Stucke’s story today, with photos by Kathy Plonka and Jesse Tinsley, looks at some of the encouraging signs in the manufacturing sector. The story mentions Lloyd Industries, which recently snared an order for 700,000 pizza pans for the Domino’s Pizza restaurant chain in Australia. The company brought in some 20 temporary employees as it ramped up to get the order out on time. One of those temps, whom we met last week on a plant tour, is Jeramy Rhoads. Rhoads is an example of the nature of the job market today, where stability is no guarantee. Rhoads, a 37-year-old father of two and resident of Spokane Valley, recently turned to a temporary employment agency and ended up at Lloyd, where he has been working for five weeks. He was told to expect a 10-week gig, making approximately $11 an hour.

Rhoads is a high school graduate with some college education. Unfortunately, while he was taking classes on data cabling and fiber optics at Alpine College, it abruptly folded in May. Rhoads delivers The Spokesman-Review and builds computer servers out of his home. He is just one of many who are hustling to provide for themselves and their families.

The Road Ahead series also will examine how the changing job picture affects the lifestyle and daily hum of communities, large and rural. As often as possible, we’ll be putting real faces on the subject matter we’re writing about by interviewing a broad segment of the workforce. To that end, we will be seeking ways to engage readers in the conversation through emails, telephone calls and social media. We’re eager to hear what readers think and what ideas they might have to offer. Given the importance of employment, we don’t fear overdoing our emphasis on the topic. It’s a presidential election year, of course, so we can anticipate that jobs, the unemployment rate and methods to jump-start the economy will be a mainstay of the national conversation. One of our goals is to help bring that discussion down from the political stratosphere and offer a dose of reality.

A key role of any newspaper is to explain to readers how the community is changing, why it’s changing and what it means for them. Our Road Ahead series is intended to help readers make sense of the ripple effects of the most significant economic change in decades. We welcome your thoughts.

Gary Graham is editor of The Spokesman-Review. He can be contacted at garyg@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5405. Follow him on Twitter at @glgraham.


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