The Skills Gap and the Budget Gap

Yesterday morning, I attended Commonwealth Corporation‘s release of their latest report: Closing the Massachusetts Skills Gap: Recommendations and Next Steps.

The report provides a great summary of data from the regional skills gap summits that CommCorp held across the state over the last 18 months.  It ended with a call to action–information about promising practices, programs and policies that could contribute to closing our state’s skills gap.

Many of the recommendations may sound at least somewhat familiar–investing in employment opportunities for young people, who are more disconnected than ever from the labor market; increasing investment in sector-based training; expanding the scale and intensity of adult basic education and English Language programs; facilitating and accelerating the attainment of degrees and credentials with meaning in the labor market; connecting the classroom more directly with the world of work.  Other recommendations challenged the workforce sector to think outside the box a bit more–to leverage Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), for example, for non-traditional students and adult learners in basic education and skills training.

These are common sense recommendations, and by and large ones that we know how to implement or have started to implement in various ways.

So what’s the problem?

One obvious problem is funding.

This isn’t to say that we can’t also make program improvements or that we don’t need innovation, but it is to say that without a basic level of resources the workforce training system will be in continuous retreat, playing defense when we need it to be playing offense.

Last week we blogged about the House FY14 budget proposal, which decreased funding for many key job training programs for youth and adults.

How can we be talking about reducing the skills gap and promising recommendations for moving forward while at the same time the legislature has proposed cutting key programs that actually do address the skills gap in some of the ways outlined in the report?

These are tough times to be sure, and many worthy programs across many sectors are feeling a pinch after several years of lower than expected revenue growth, But if we’re serious about the skills gap and if we truly believe the consequences of NOT addressing the gap will lead to slower economic growth for the Commonwealth and greater poverty and inequality among our residents, we must find a way to step up our investments AND innovate.

The House, through the amendment process, did restore some of the funding that had been cut, but there is still much to be done:

School to Career – from $1 million now amended to $2 million
Youth Works – from $2 million now amended to $5 million
One Stops – $4.25 million amended to $4.494 million with no $ for DCS administration
ABE – from $29.1 million amended to $30.1
Shannon Grants – from $2 million to $4.5 million
DPH Youth – from $1 million to $1.5 million
ESP – $5 million to $6 million

It does not appear that WCTF or the pilot Pathways for TANF recipients were funded in the House budget.

We need your help now as the budget process moves to the Senate, which is due to release its budget by May 15.

Do you value job training? Do you strongly believe we need to address the skills gap?  The first thing you can do is to call your senator and ask him or her to support these important training programs and approaches,

  • Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund Amendment
  • Pathways to Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Employment Services Program Amendment
  • YouthWorks Youth Jobsn)
  • One Stop Career Centers
  • Shannon Anti-Gang Violence Grant Programriation for FY2012.

Thank you for your support and for your advocacy.

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