Help wanted: Business leaders who support jobs, skills & training

This week at the Clinton Global Initiative-America (CGI-America) jobs and economic recovery covening in Chicago, the National Skills Coalition, Skills for America’s Future, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and Corporate Voices for Working Families announced the creation of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships.  Business Leaders United is an initiative to bring diverse business leaders together to help shape a national skills strategy that can address structural skill shortages that are putting the brakes on economic recovery and job creation.

There couldn’t be a better time or greater need for such a group.  Congress cut $1 billion from the  federal workforce system in FY2011, and is looking at even deeper cuts in FY2012.  At the same time, study after study is pointing out that we still have a skills gap–that up to 2 million jobs may be unfilled despite the recession–because our workforce is inadequately trained.

Business leadership is needed more than ever to speak to the importance of an appropriately skilled and trained workforce to spur growth and competitiveness.

The new Business Leaders initiative, whose first investor is the Joyce Foundation, will wisely bring businesses to the table as partners in training delivery and in shaping workforce policy.   The initiative’s goals are to:

  • Expand the number of these partnerships by more than 30 percent across 50 states.
  • Facilitate conversations between local business leaders and federal policymakers about how private, philanthropic, and public dollars can be leveraged to replicate and sustain these partnerships nationally.

Will Massachusetts’ companies step up to the challenge?

Skills2Compete MA is seeking business partners to speak out on the importance of investing in our Commonwealth’s workforce and to help shape our skills training and education systems and investments.

As Patrick Flavin, AVP Director of Workforce Initiatives for The TJX Companies, Inc. said in announcing the Business Leaders United initiative, “In order to better realize long-term economic recovery, we need to close the gap between untapped talent and entry level workforce needs.”

Please join Skills2Compete MA and be part of the solution.


Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

This weekend, the Boston Globe ran an article that put a human face on the impact of the proposed workforce training and job placement program cuts in HR1.  In essence:

  • Most if not all of our state’s 37 career centers would close.
  • Hundreds of thousands of dislocated workers and the long-term unemployed in Massachusetts alone would lose training and re-employment resources.

This morning, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) released its Business Confidence Index, which revealed that while business confidence improved in March, employers are now concerned with their ability to fill positions with qualified candidates.  In fact 52% of respondents said they had experienced difficulty filling positions, even in this time of high unemployment, and that the biggest problem was the lack of people with required skills–both soft skills and more technical skills–in the applicant pool. Continue reading “Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?”

A lesson from Mary Poppins

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take my niece to see Mary Poppins at the Boston Opera House.  It was a lot of fun, and in the middle of it, I made an unexpected connection to the debates that have been happening around our federal budget and to the world of workforce development.

This was the brief scene from Act I:

A businessman gave each of the two children a coin and asks them what they think is the value. The young boy proudly states that he knows the coin is worth six-pence.  The businessman’s response is the powerful statement. He stated (and I am paraphrasing), “You’re right that the coin is worth six-pence, but the value of money is determined by how you spend it.”

I am not sure that I heard anything after that statement for the next few minutes as I thought about the connection to the debates we’ve been having in the public sphere about cuts and spending at the local, state and federal levels.

I’ve heard many times in a personal finance context that one of the best ways to evaluate one’s priorities is to take a look at one’s household or personal budget.  What then does our nation’s budget say about our collective priorities?  Specifically, what does it say when many of the spending cuts being proposed disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged among us, including those who are trying to get back on their feet through education and training?

I don’t envy our legislators the difficult job of trying to balance many priorities, meet many needs, and reduce our federal deficit in a responsible way.  Still I can’t help but think we and they need to occasionally step back and think about the bigger question of what we value and then step up to take a stand for those things.

Each dollar is worth 100 pennies. Yet, how different we may feel about the value of that dollar based on how we have spent it and how it has had an impact on others.

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