Compromising our future

According to a recent Boston Globe article, Massachusetts has made some of the deepest cuts to higher education in the nation over the last five years. Between 2004 and 2009, Massachusetts has slashed funding per student by 13.3 percent, while nationally, per-student funding rose by 4 percent.

Since 2009, state appropriation for public higher education has dropped an additional 12 percent.

Massachusetts already ranks 46th in the nation in terms of per capita spending on public higher education.  How much lower can we go? And what happens when we don’t adequately support public higher education?

  • Campuses try to compensate by raising fees, making public colleges less affordable.
  • Students, especially those with lower incomes, decide they can’t afford to attend.
  • Colleges cut staff and compromise essential services like academic advising.

The average tuition and fees at Massachusetts public 4-year institutions as of 2009 is already $7,922, 33% higher than the national average of $5,950. The average tuition and fees at Massachusetts public 2-year institutions (2009) is $3,071, 49% higher than the national average of $2,063.

By cutting public support even further, we are shifting the burden of public higher education to many residents of the Commonwealth who can least afford it, especially as our support for need-based financial aid has declined by over 50% over the last 20 years.

It’s undeniable that our system needs to do a better job of graduating students and connecting them with jobs in our high growth industries, and we should have better performance measures and incentive pay for increasing credential attainment rates for all students, including adults and part-time students.   Still, the public higher education system is a better alternative than many of the for-profit schools that are so good at marketing their programs but often leave students with crushing debt and without meaningful credentials.

And, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have significantly under-funded public higher education for years.  We need to catch up.

The bottom line is that cuts to this part of our educational system compromise the future of our workforce and thus the  strength of our economy.  85% of Massachusetts public higher education students stay in Massachusetts and work here upon graduation.  The value of the increased earnings of college graduates over their lifetime is 9.4 times greater than the cost to the state of their education.

Given that 44 percent of our jobs are middle-skill (requiring some post-secondary education) and another 36 percent are high skill  (requiring at least a four-year college degree), shouldn’t we be investing more in the system that prepares our residents for employment and helps keep these jobs in our state?

A Youth's Perspective on Workforce Development

I, like most people at the age of 18, was not fully aware of the efforts in the workforce development field until, through the City of Boston’s Summer Jobs program, I landed an internship at SkillWorks for the summer. Now I cannot go a day without either uttering or hearing the words workforce development, jobs, and education.

On the first day of my internship, I was handed a copy of Massachusetts’ Forgotten Middle Skill Jobs report which revealed two statistics I thought were staggering. I read, “45 percent of the jobs in Massachusetts’ labor market are ‘middle-skill,’ requiring more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree, and that nearly 400,000 job openings between now and 2016 will be in this middle-skill area.” I thought the country was in a job crisis and yet right then I learned that there were jobs going unfilled because people did not have the necessary skills to fill them!

It hit me that middle skill job training was imperative for our state’s and our country’s economy. Hundreds of thousands of people have no means of supporting their families only because they lack the correct training and education. This report informed me and made me excited to advocate for the Skills2Compete-Massachusetts campaign, which calls for two years of education or training past high school. I knew after reading the report that I was in for a lot of hard work.

Here I am today a month and a half into my internship. Having recently graduated from high school, I understand that a high school diploma is not enough to succeed in today’s job market. Thus, I put my efforts into bringing the Skills2Compete vision to life by attending numerous workforce development meetings, planning for a gubernatorial forum in September, and helping out in any way possible. The most fulfilling day of my job came when I attended a YMCA Training Inc. graduation. Many speakers went on stage and shared their stories which detailed the way in which training has helped them, their families, and their lives. I could have read thousands of statistics proving the need for job training, but these people’s stories were enough for me.

I witness the results of job training and education and hear new success stories every single day. Yet, it is our goal to open the eyes of legislative leaders, policymakers and our next governor so that they can see the impact of training as well. I may see the Skills2Compete vision, but many others still do not.  It is up to all of us to continue promoting the Skills2Compete Massachusetts vision and campaign so that everybody becomes aware of what a little bit of job training and hard work can do. Please help by supporting our campaign and promoting the Skills2Compete vision!

-Arlind Hoxha, SkillWorks Summer Intern

What does it take to get a middle skill job?

What does it take to get a middle skill job? The stories below illustrate the power of a little bit of help strategically focused on the transition into college-level course work. Both Allen and Jennifer participated in the JVS Pre-College Program, funded by SkillWorks, which helped them overcome a significant barrier to attaining postsecondary credentials.

Allen Guerrero

Twelve years out of high school, Allen Guerrero wanted to go back to school to become a medical coder.  Unfortunately, although he tried, Allen was not able to pass the mathematics portion of the college placement test and was therefore unable to take the courses that he needed to pursue his career path.

Allen found help by enrolling in the JVS Pre-College Math Class in Fall 2009.  The class helped him refresh the math skills he learned in high school and he passed the college placement test. Filled with new confidence, he enrolled into Bunker Hill Community College in the Spring of 2010 in hopes of obtaining a certificate in medical coding.

”The things I learned in this pre-college program go beyond just mathematics,” says Allen.  “I learned that it is never too late to retool, refocus, try hard, and learn new skills.” Allen has just finished his first semester of college, earning all A’s in his classes and plans to take English and Math next semester. Allen is well on his way to reaching his goal of becoming a medical coder.  “I encourage anyone who wants to achieve their goals faster to follow in my footsteps.”

Jennifer Cox

Jennifer Cox has been employed at Hebrew Senior Life as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for the last two years and is part of the Hebrew Senior Life’s nursing career ladder program.  Jennifer enrolled in the JVS Pre-College Math Class prior to enrolling in college in the Fall of 2008.

Jennifer says the JVS program was effective because she shared a personal connection with her instructor. Jennifer says, “The same person helped me with every single session and understood the areas that I needed to work on. My instructor at JVS took the time to help when I needed more time to understand the material.”

“I learned many new skills at the program such as how to study and take notes effectively, how to break down math problems, and how to challenge myself.” Jennifer passed her college placement test and finally had the chance to go to college with the skills needed to succeed. Jennifer received her LPN Certificate from MassBay Community College in July 2010. Eventually she wants to go back to college to become an RN.

“I highly recommend the JVS Pre-College program to everyone because it was so helpful in helping me learn how to manage my time, get organized, and be a better student.  It has really allowed me to take the right steps toward my goal of becoming an R.N.”

The path to acquiring a middle skill job is not easy but is definitely feasible.  As we can see from these stories, key aspects of success include a personal connection with tutors/coaches, flexible and condensed pre-college courses suitable for working adults, and industry-focused curriculum that allows participants to move toward their career goals.  As a result of these and other program elements as well as hard work, both Allen and Jennifer are on their way to achieving the credentials needed for a middle skill job.

To learn more about the JVS pre-college program, please visit www.jvs-boston.org

The business benefits of investing in lower-wage workers

In our last post, we discussed the approach that one business, Nypro, takes to investing in its workforce.

A just-released business brief from the National Network for Sector Partners talks about the benefits of making these investments.  Through case studies and interviews, the brief makes the case that training and advancing lower-wage workers has top and bottom line benefits–increasing revenues while decreasing expenses for businesses who make these investments.

According to the brief, which features several Massachusetts employers, including Visiting Nurses Association of Eastern Massachusetts; Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates; and Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home,  employers around the country that are building their bottom line by unlocking the potential of their lower-wage workforce.

Are you an employer interested in learning more?  Five fundamentals common to all employers interested in developing their lower wage workforces include:

  • One or more influential internal champions to promote the value of the initiative
  • An able and willing workforce, ready to take advantage of the training opportunities offered
  • An evidence-based business case for sustaining and improving the program
  • The ability and willingness to offer support to workers while they are in training
  • Dedicated, skilled management of the program

The overriding lesson is that employers who treat their basic-skill workforce as a durable asset — as a locus of quality and a source of steadily increasing skill and performance — find that their business is materially better for their effort. These are some of the returns they describe:

  • Revenues improve as quality and customer satisfaction rises.
  • Costs go down as errors, corrections, and vacancies diminish.
  • Employee teams become more productive and cohesive.
  • Less time is lost on supervisory interventions, customer complaints, and re-working.
  • The costs of excessive turnover — especially vacancies, recruitment, and re-training— all drop sharply.
  • The company’s reputation improves among both customers and potential employees.
  • The company becomes a magnet for the most motivated and productive workers.

Business needs to step up in STEM education

A dwindling supply of college graduates in STEM fields matched with an increasing supply of future STEM jobs is a recipe for labor shortages and constraints on economic growth.

Yesterday, Mass High Tech issued a call to action for businesses help build a pipeline of workers with STEM skills. Making investments to skill up our current workforce is a great place to start. There are great examples of businesses who have stepped up to provide on-site skills training, tuition advancement, and release time, not only to managers but also to line level staff in order to facilitate their education and advancement and build a pipeline of talent for critical positions.

Two-thirds of our 2020 workforce is in the workforce today. While it’s important to build a K-12 STEM pipeline, it’s also critical to invest in today’s workers.

Right here in Massachusetts, Nypro has a partnership with Fitchburg State College to deliver a plastics technology certificate program that’s both customized to their needs but that also articulates to a portable Associates Degree. This provides tremendous opportunity for both incumbent workers at Nypro to upgrade their skills as well as job seekers interested in a career in manufacturing. In fact, Nypro’s Angelo Sabatolo, Corporate Director of Training and Organizational Development, recently shared that many students enrolled in Nypro University are not Nypro employees, and that Nypro does sometimes end up training their competitors. He says, however, that Nypro sees its investment in training as a way to build its own workforce as well as a way to strengthen the industry as a whole.

As Mr. Sabatalo says, “The development and sustainability of a quality workforce demands a significant and continued investment in education and training. [H]uman capital is our most valuable asset. [L]earning and professional development (are) strategic elements to our success.”

The same holds true for the Commonwealth.