She attributes many of her accomplishments to the training and postsecondary programs she participated in, like Hack.Diversity, of which SkillWorks is a proud supporter. And her connection with SkillWorks doesn’t stop there, having also participated in other funded programs in healthcare and IT – showing that she’s in the driver’s seat of her education, purposefully taking advantage of opportunities to learn about, explore, and enter into the career pathway that’s right for her.
Ever since the launch of the Greater Boston IT/Tech Consortium in September 2016, there has been a flurry of excitement around the opportunities and challenges the Consortium has set out to address, and the possibilities for building an accessible and sustainable talent pipeline that meets the needs of Greater Boston residents and employers.
Don’t just take our word for it, after hosting two forums, we’ve been getting some awesome feedback and shout-outs via Twitter:
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.
President Obama announced yesterday new investments in the Skills for America’s Future initiative, which focuses on training and preparing our workforce for manufacturing jobs. In partnership with National Association of Manufacturers, community colleges and private sector employers, the new investments will train over 500,000 community college students and allow them to get industry-accepted credentials for manufacturing jobs that companies across America are looking to fill.
President Obama’s remarks specifically called out the skills mismatch that the Skills2Compete MA campaign and our partners at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, Shire Pharmaceutical, Children’s Hospital Boston, Nypro, Accurounds and others have noted. As the President said:
“The goal isn’t just making sure that somebody has got a certificate or a diploma. The goal is to make sure your degree helps you to get a promotion or a raise or a job….
“Because the irony is even though a lot of folks are looking for work, there are a lot of companies that are actually also looking for skilled workers. There’s a mismatch that we can close. And this partnership is a great way to do it.
“So if you’re a company looking to hire, you’ll know exactly what kind of training went into a specific degree. If you’re considering attending a community college, you’ll be able to know that the diploma you earn will be valuable when you hit the job market.”
Lest we think this isn’t relevant to Massachusetts, the President’s remarks and the announcement of these new investments address concerns raised by Bay State manufacturers in the recent two-part series in the Boston Business Journal. The series, which focused on the revival of manufacturing in the Commonwealth, also pointed out that a shortage of trained workers could threaten companies’ ability to expand here.
The challenge is in how we connect the dots on the ground. The Department of Higher Education’s Vision Project is focusing on increasing credential attainment at our public higher education institutions. Massachusetts’ Workforce Training Fund, Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, and the public-private SkillWorks initiative invest in and nurture precisely the kinds of employer-training partnerships the President is talking about.
Yet, in the case of the Competitiveness Trust Fund, there’s no money left to support these partnerships, and both the House and Senate neglected to pass amendments that would have made a modest pool of dollars available in FY2012. And while the Vision Project is making recommendations, we’ll have to find both the funding and the political will in order to implement them and see the kind of transformative change that’s needed.
It can be discouraging to think about the limits of what we can accomplish given currently constrained resources, but we have to start somewhere. We should find the resources needed for at least a modest investment in the Competitiveness Trust Fund in 2012; we should support financial aid for working adults who attend school part-time; and we should continue to pilot and then take to scale innovative, industry-driven approaches that help students successfully attain credentials. The potential return on this investment in terms of job growth, business expansion, and income growth for workers is enormous.
The President wants to see 500,000 new community college students earn credentials that will position them for success in the labor market. Let’s make sure a good number of those are right here in Massachusetts.
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.