All candidates to appear at Skills2Compete Forum on September 28

Charlie Baker, Timothy Cahill, Deval Patrick and Jill Stein are all confirmed to attend the Skills2Compete Gubernatorial Candidates’ Forum on September 28 at Bunker Hill Community College.

The forum, which will be held from 4 pm to 5:30 pm, will feature remarks from all the candidates on their plans to address the critical concerns of job creation, unemployment and job training, which have been central issues in the  2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Peter Howe (NECN) will moderate, and Curt Nickisch (WBUR), George Donnelly (Boston Business Journal) and Shirley Leung (Boston Globe) will ask questions of the candidates.

Register now to attend.

This forum would not be possible without the support of our generous sponsors:

Associated Industries of Massachusetts; The Hyams Foundation, Inc.; The National Skills Coalition; and State Street Corporation.

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?

Up and coming middle-skill jobs and training

In the wake of our release of the Massachusetts’ Forgotten Middle Skill Jobs report, many people have asked if we can tell them more about middle-skill jobs in the Commonwealth, especially where these jobs are growing and where training is available.

As we launch into the new academic year, I thought it would be fitting to highlight a new middle-skill training program being developed at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) in Boston’s South End.

Recently, The National Science Foundation awarded BFIT a grant of more than $360,000 to expand its Automotive Technology program to include a two-year program in Alternative Fuel Vehicle Operations and Maintenance. The program trains students to work as technicians in the growing hybrid vehicle industry.

The hybrid vehicle industry is a prime example of where middle skill jobs–those that require more than a high schools diploma but less than a four year degree–will boom in the years to come. This industry is expected to flourish as more drivers choose eco-friendly and “green” cars. Yet, most auto shops do not have certified hybrid technicians and are not ready for hybrid vehicles.

This new program at BFIT has the potential to be a concrete example of the types of partnerships, pathways, and proportionate investment that the Skills2Compete MA campaign recommends:
•    Partnerships with employers are informing the curriculum and program design;
•    Investment, from the NSF in this case, will assist in developing the curriculum;
•    The Skills2Compete campaign would just encourage the development of Pathways as part of this program in order to ensure that traditionally under-represented populations, the unemployed, and lower-skilled and lower-income workers have the opportunity and support necessary to complete the training and obtain middle-skill employment.

Click here to learn more about the new BFIT alternative fuel vehicle operations and maintenance program.

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