New Report from Boston Fed: We have a middle-skill gap, and we need to tackle it with public policy

Last week, the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released a report that examined labor supply and demand in New England.  “Mismatch in the Labor Market: Measuring the Supply of and Demand for Skilled Labor in New England,” which examined population trends as well as educational, economic and workforce data, concluded that middle-skill jobs make up a significant proportion of jobs in the entire New England region (33%) and that these jobs are likely to comprise a similar share of the economy for the foreseeable future.

The report also posited that given current trends in credential/degree completion rates in New England, coming retirements, immigration patterns and other factors, the supply of middle-skill workers will likely fall short of demand by 4-6 percent (compared with 1-2 percent in the U.S.).  In fact, one of the most sobering statistics from the report was that the current rate of college continuation among entering student cohorts would have to increase by 50 percent across all racial and ethnic groups immediately in order to meet this projected middle-skill gap.

What are the implications of this challenge?

As the report itself continues, such a large, immediate gain is not realistic, but if we were to increase the college continuation rates of entering and existing cohorts of students (including those up to age 39) by 20 percent, we could close our middle-skill gap by one-third to one-half over the next decade.

In other words, there’s an obvious solution–growing our own talent pipeline–but this requires long-term commitment, patience, creativity and hard work.  It requires looking at both new entrants to higher education and the labor force as well as those who are already enrolled/employed and helping both groups start and complete college-level work, particularly middle-skill certificates and credentials.

The Skills2Compete MA campaign has issued a number of recommendations aimed at moving us closer to this solution, including better pathways from adult basic education programs to post-secondary education; increased financial aid for part-time students; more flexible course delivery formats/methods/times; more student support services;  re-structuring developmental/remedial education; and more investment in our state’s public higher education system, especially community colleges, with commensurate increases in accountability and outcomes.

Many of our recommendations were echoed by the New England Policy Center, which also emphasized the role of community colleges in middle-skill training and the importance of strengthening this particular part of our middle-skill training arsenal.

So, here we are at the end of 2010.  We know there’s a middle-skills gap looming–two reports just this year have documented this well.  We know we have to do something about it, and we even have a pretty good idea of what we need to do.

Yet, the current recession, budget woes, and even just inertia threaten to keep us from moving toward a solution.  We are going to have to make tough choices–and we are going to have to ask our legislators and policymakers to take a stand not just to increase investments in middle-skill training and public higher education but also to change the way things have always been done.

Neither our Commonwealth, our businesses or our residents can afford to wait any longer.

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New NPR series focuses on labor-skills mismatch

“Employers have millions of jobs they are trying to fill. But in some cases, they are having trouble.”

So begins a new series on NPR about the labor-skills mismatch that we currently have in the United States, even during this recession.

While this first segment focuses on higher skilled jobs like architects, engineers, and software developers, middle-skill jobs like airplane mechanics are also noted as being difficult to fill.  Employers also focused on the importance of post-secondary credentials and experience in terms of getting hired in the current labor market.

All of this underscores the critical nature of the work we need to do to prepare our workforce for middle-skill and high-skill jobs.  If employers can’t find the workers they need, even in the midst of the worst recession in recent history, we clearly need to do a better job of aligning our training and educational systems to where the jobs are.  Of course, part of this work needs to be focused on the K-12 pipeline, integrating STEM into the curriculum, strengthening college preparation and improving basic skills.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that two-thirds of our 2020 workforce is already past high school, and many adults need opportunities to re-train or up-skill as well.  Here in Massachusetts, this means we need stronger and more adult basic education programs; better transitions to post-secondary education and training; better linkages between workforce development, adult education, higher education, and businesses; support for adults in post-secondary education; more evening/weekend/modular/accelerated certificate and credential programs; and more investment overall in public higher education.

If we can’t give our workforce the skills to compete in the 21st century economy, we’ll all lose the race.

Vote on November 2

Your vote counts on November 2!

Before you go to the polls on Tuesday, take a few minutes to hear what the candidates had to say about jobs and training at the Skills2Compete MA gubernatorial forum last month.

The person we elect to serve as our next governor will make crucial decisions about the Commonwealth’s investments in middle-skill jobs and how to better prepare our residents for these jobs.

Washington Policy Update

Interested in what’s happening at the federal level in terms of promoting middle-skill jobs and training?  SkillWorks: Partners for a Productive Workforce is a member of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which recently posted a policy update on its blog focused on:

  • Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization–including what’s been proposed that will support greater sector-based training, career pathways, and increased focus on credential attainment.
  • The Community College and Career Training Grant program focused on improving instruction for adult learners–grant solicitation announcement due to be released within the next week
  • FY2011 Appropriations and Innovation Grants update

Read the entire post here:  http://www.nfwsolutions.org/blog/washington-policy-roundup