As an article in today’s Boston Globe highlights, warnings of the instability of the Massachusetts economy are growing. Reporter Deirdre Fernandes writes that the region’s top economists are stressing that despite numbers showing economic recovery and steady growth, when you check under the hood, you’ll see a more troubling picture. Yes, the official unemployment has dropped even lower than pre-recession levels to 4.4%, which is also below the current national average of 5%. And it’s true that the state economy has been experiencing steady growth, reaching an annual rate of 2.3%, well above the national average of 0.5%. But these data points divert attention from a myriad of challenges and systemic imbalances combining to create a ‘perfect storm’ positioned to wreak havoc on our economy.
- The percent of underemployed workers and those who are only marginally attached to the workforce is still well above pre-recession levels at 9.3%.
- Two thirds of Massachusetts employers are expressing difficulty finding and hiring people with the right skills, pointing to a so-called ‘skills gap.’
- By 2020, 70% of all jobs will require post-secondary education, yet 1 in 3 adults in Massachusetts have only a high school diploma or less.
- Nearly one third of the Massachusetts labor force is already over the age of 55 and will be retiring soon.
- Anecdotally, 9 in 10 of individuals that seek out occupational training are turned away due to lack of basic skills.
SkillWorks, our policy advocacy partners at the Workforce Solutions Group, and others across the workforce community are already well aware of this storm and we’ve devised a new campaign and set of policy recommendations to address these challenges and mitigate the impact on our economy and residents.
Tackling these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach including investments in early pipeline strategies at the career-technical high schools, increased early college high school options, expanded work readiness and career awareness, opportunities for both young people and adults. We also need increased investments in higher education including the development of stackable credentials for efficiency and affordability, college and career navigation coaches, and an accountability system that includes job placement and retention strategies.
The Skills to Succeed campaign includes a Four Point Plan for Job and Career Growth in Massachusetts, focusing on a few key areas that, if well-resourced and effectively implemented, could result in the greatest impact on the skills gap by increasing the yield of talent entering and exiting the pipeline to employment. Our four point plan contains the strategies and action steps to achieve this vision.
1. Increase Accountability Measures for Education and Training
- Advocate for common performance measures that are necessary to evaluate programs. A key example of this is tracking wages, for which we need wage record matching capabilities. Fortunately, there are new WIOA requirements for data sharing that include wage matching, and the state has recently added language authorizing this type of data sharing.
- Support the Community College Performance Funding, which is meant to provide financial rewards to colleges with improved completion rates and student outcomes like job placement and retention.
- Set goals by region and demographics in three key areas: short- and long-term unemployment, earnings, and credential attainment.
2. Coordinate Inter-agency programs to leverage and maximize existing resources
- Increase federal reimbursements for SNAP E&T: an important new source of funding for training and education.
- Ensure that agencies and their databases can talk to each other so that participants are efficiently and effectively served. Develop one stop portals and applications wherever possible to increase transparency and decrease overlap.
3. Increase the capacity of sector-based training programs that lead to career pathways.
- Support continued funding for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund which funds sector training partnerships to train job seekers in high-demand sectors.
- Convene industry partnerships to engage employers to help develop programming that is responsive to their workforce needs.
- Support increased capital resources for training and education programs like Governor Baker’s new Skills Grants for Career and Vocational Technical Education, a new initiative to support and expand capacity for vocational technical schools.
- Increase resources for Bridges to College programs that provide remedial classes to help adults enter community college.
4. Expand Successful Youth Pathways Programs such as:
- YouthWorks: state subsidized summer jobs for low income, at-risk youth
- School to Career Connecting Activities: paid internships for high school students
- Signal Success: a comprehensive, contextualized work readiness and career exploration curriculum which can be adapted for k-12 and community based organization settings.
To learn more about the Skills to Succeed campaign and how you can support these critical workforce issues, contact:
The Workforce Solutions Group
Click here to learn how you can impact state budget decisions.
Find your legislators to start advocating for these changes today!
See MassBudget’s Jobs & Workforce Budget browser to learn more about state workforce funding .