Skills for America's–and Massachusetts'–Future

President Obama announced yesterday new investments in the Skills for America’s Future initiative, which focuses on training and preparing our workforce for manufacturing jobs.  In partnership with National Association of Manufacturers, community colleges and private sector employers, the new investments will train over 500,000 community college students and allow them to get industry-accepted credentials for manufacturing jobs that companies across America are looking to fill.

President Obama’s remarks specifically called out the skills mismatch that the Skills2Compete MA campaign and our partners at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, Shire Pharmaceutical, Children’s Hospital Boston, Nypro, Accurounds and others have noted.  As the President said:

“The goal isn’t just making sure that somebody has got a certificate or a diploma.  The goal is to make sure your degree helps you to get a promotion or a raise or a job….

“Because the irony is even though a lot of folks are looking for work, there are a lot of companies that are actually also looking for skilled workers.  There’s a mismatch that we can close.  And this partnership is a great way to do it.

“So if you’re a company looking to hire, you’ll know exactly what kind of training went into a specific degree.  If you’re considering attending a community college, you’ll be able to know that the diploma you earn will be valuable when you hit the job market.”

Lest we think this isn’t relevant to Massachusetts, the President’s remarks and the announcement of these new investments address concerns raised by Bay State manufacturers in the recent two-part series in the Boston Business Journal.  The series, which focused on the revival of manufacturing in the Commonwealth, also pointed out that a shortage of trained workers could threaten companies’ ability to expand here.

The challenge is in how we connect the dots on the ground.  The Department of Higher Education’s Vision Project is focusing on increasing credential attainment at our public higher education institutions. Massachusetts’ Workforce Training Fund, Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, and the public-private SkillWorks initiative invest in and nurture precisely the kinds of employer-training partnerships the President is talking about.

Yet, in the case of the Competitiveness Trust Fund, there’s no money left to support these partnerships, and both the House and Senate neglected to pass amendments that would have made a modest pool of dollars available in FY2012.   And while the Vision Project is making recommendations, we’ll have to find both the funding and the political will in order to implement them and see the kind of transformative change that’s needed.

It can be discouraging to think about the limits of what we can accomplish given currently constrained resources, but we have to start somewhere.  We should find the resources needed for at least a modest investment in the Competitiveness Trust Fund in 2012; we should support financial aid for working adults who attend school part-time; and we should continue to pilot and then take to scale innovative, industry-driven approaches that help students successfully attain credentials.  The potential return on this investment in terms of job growth, business expansion, and income growth for workers is enormous.

The President wants to see 500,000 new community college students earn credentials that will position them for success in the labor market.  Let’s make sure a good number of those are right here in Massachusetts.

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