AIM, MindEdge Announce E-Learning Initiative

Posted by Rick Lord on Sep 15, 2014 9:16:06 AM

Thousands of Massachusetts employers will gain access to state-of-the-art online professional development courses under an alliance announced today by Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and Waltham-based MindeEdge Inc.

AIM_MindEdgeAIM, the largest employer association in Massachusetts, will expand its existing lineup of human resources, legal compliance and management education courses with interactive e-learning offerings from MindEdge in areas such as project management, sustainability and finance. AIM and MindEdge will also collaborate on new courses important to employers such as LEAN management.

AIM spent a great deal of time seeking an online learning solution that reflects the excellence and high standards our member employers have come to expect from our in-person seminars and on-site training and education. MindEdge was founded in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators and the company continues to innovate in the rapidly changing landscape of online education.

The 4,500 member employers of AIM are delighted to be working with such a world-class company located right here in Massachusetts.

“Employers in growing numbers are going online for employee training and education, but AIM wanted to be certain that the online courses we offered to members were effective and met the learning objectives of busy employers. We have done that with MindEdge,” said Gary MacDonald, Executive Vice President of the AIM Employers Resource Group.

All of the courses are mobile-enabled, meaning that employers and their workers will have the option to access information via a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

MindEdge specializes in higher education and professional development content and technology solutions. The company’s webtexts feature narrative, interactive learning case studies and simulations, as well as adaptive learning technology to maximize learner mastery of the content.

The MindEdge platform also includes a learning-management system that allows company training managers to monitor the progress of employees taking each course.

The alliance will provide the 4,500 member employers of AIM access to online courses in areas such as:

  • Communication
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Finance
  • Human Resource Management
  • International Trade
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Project Management
  • Sustainable Management

“We’re pleased to join AIM in offering online learning that is both convenient and effective for Massachusetts employers,” said Jefferson Flanders, CEO and President of MindEdge.

“AIM is acknowledged to be the leading provider of management and human resources training and education to Massachusetts companies. MindEdge will seek to extend that commitment to quality into the online world.”

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) improves the financial performance of member companies through a unique combination of lobbying, management and human-resource services that allow employers to control the environment both inside and outside their businesses. AIM provides management and HR services that increase workforce productivity and improve the recruitment, retention and training of talented people.

MindEdge, a learning company based in Waltham, provides leadership, management, communication, and educational solutions for organizations to help them meet their objectives.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Education, Training

Massachusetts Schools Pull 'F' in Technology

Posted by Andre Mayer on Sep 11, 2014 2:55:07 PM

“Leaders & Laggards,” the state-by-state report card on K-12 education released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, gives Massachusetts strong grades – with one very disturbing “F.”

Education“A” grades for academic achievement, return on investment, and credibility of student assessments are what we have come to expect, confirming the success of the Education Reform Act of 1993. The “B”s for progress since 2007, school choice, and data quality are similarly in line with expectations, as is the “D” for pension funding (an issue that affects virtually the entire public sector in our state).

In three categories, our “A”s are products of the grading curve – we may perform well compared to other states, but we must do better. Achievement for low-income and especially for minority students still lags badly. The international competitiveness of our results, however favorable by domestic standards, doesn’t look as good globally (which is what should count). As for postsecondary and workforce readiness, a survey sponsored by AIM and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) found widespread employer dissatisfaction with the preparation of our high school graduates.  

The most startling and disturbing grade on the Bay State’s report card is an “F” in technology.

“Massachusetts receives a very poor grade employing technology to provide quality instruction and personalized learning,” says the report.Students do not have access to high-quality digital learning options.” A “B-” fin the 21st-century teaching force category is a related issue, because the value of educational technology depends upon the ability of teachers to use it effectively. These scores are disappointing and dangerous for a state with a technology-based economy, including a significant and expanding ed-tech sector.

Employer concerns about the adequacy of schools in a fast-changing world were echoed in a recent report, The New Opportunity to Lead: A Vision for Education in Massachusetts in the Next 20 Years, [full report; executive summary] prepared by a partnership of international education experts for MBAE, AIM’s longtime partner on education issues.

In response to that call for a commitment to innovation and a culture of continuous improvement in our schools, MBAE is seeking to create “information age schools for an information age economy,” combining technology and connections to higher education and business to promote student-centered learning along with expended freedom and flexibility.

Pioneer Valley Employers Offer Vision for the Future

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 5, 2014 4:17:00 PM

The shortage of qualified employees, punitive regulations and an overly complex state workforce training system were among the issues raised Thursday as more than two dozen AIM-member employers provided feedback for the association’s Blueprint for the Next Century.

Regan.BlueprintThe first of eight regional Blueprint listening sessions brought together companies from throughout the Pioneer Valley for an often animated discussion at the Eastern States Exposition’s Storrowton Tavern. The comments will become part of a long-term plan for growth and prosperity that AIM will develop in conjunction with its 100th anniversary in 2015.

Eugene Cassidy, Executive Director of the Eastern States, an AIM member, set the tone for the discussion in his welcoming remarks:

“I see the Eastern States Exposition as a job generator, providing horsepower to the local economy,” Cassidy told the group.

The most pressing issue facing employers around the table appeared to be finding the qualified people companies need to compete in the global economy. Employers said they struggle to hire workers in a variety of roles, from skilled machinists and assemblers to middle managers to engineers.

The issue is compounded, participants said, by the commonwealth’s byzantine maze of workforce training and funding programs. Many of these programs are helpful, but employers said they involve levels of paperwork that smaller companies do not have the time or resources to navigate.

“It’s really pretty painful to work the process,” one employer said.

The solution? Several employers said they have established successful internships with colleges in western Massachusetts. Others open their doors to public school groups who bring students to tour the opportunities available in manufacturing and other sectors.

Burdensome regulation is also a challenge. Companies acknowledge the need for government to provide oversight of workplace safety, the environment and other issues, but say the aggregation of bureaucratic rules from the state and federal government diverts attention from growing jobs.

“Companies pay 40 percent in taxes and get back all these regulations. It really prevents them from growing,” one employer said.

Participants also talked about establishing a culture of economic success in Massachusetts – among workers, employers and state government. Several cited Midwest states that have made a priority of boosting manufacturing employment.

“Ohio and Texas are more geared to toward celebrating manufacturing and also to creating culture of work in a manufacturing environment,” said a participant.

AIM Executive Vice President of Government Affairs John Regan, who led the discussion, said the Blueprint meetings are intended to provide employers with a means to shape the economic future of the commonwealth.

The association plans to present a preliminary version of the Blueprint for the Next Century to the governor-elect at an AIM Executive Forum on November 14.


Topics: AIM General Wage Survey, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Economic Development

Secret to Lean: Employee Development

Posted by Bruce Hamilton on Sep 5, 2014 2:25:33 PM

Editor’s note - Bruce Hamilton is President of GBMP, Inc., ( a not-for-profit located in the College of Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Twenty-five years ago a book called The Machine That Changed the World coined the term “Lean.” It was the first time the term was used to describe what had been previously referred to as the Toyota Production System, or TPS.

ManufacturingWorkerSmallThe book, which was written by a distinguished academic panel, legitimatized the techniques and tools being used by The Toyota Motor Corporation and captured the imagination of industry and lawmakers alike.

What was not as well understood at that time was the profound impact the use of TPS methods would have on employee development. Previously disengaged employees became excited about solving problems and making improvements. The mantra (first echoed by Japanese industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo who is considered the world’s leading expert on manufacturing practices and the Toyota Production System) “easier, better, faster and then cheaper” implied that Lean methods when properly understood not only improved a company’s competiveness through higher quality, shorter lead-times and lower costs; it also gave every employee a personal challenge to make their work better.

The concept of workforce investment and development, it turns out, was more of a sea change for industry than the technical aspects of Lean. For more than a decade, most manufacturers glommed onto the tools without understanding the essential ingredients of employee understanding and participation – every employee, not just a small “A-team.”  Results from this well-intentioned but hollow approach to improvement were mostly disappointing.   Apparent advances made through “improvement events” did not stick because neither employees nor managers really understood the “know-why” behind the know-how.  

In 2004 on the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), Jim Womack, founder of LEI and principle author The Machine That Changed the World, declared “The age of tools is over.”   What had been implicit in the Toyota Production System from the start – the focus on people – was finally becoming apparent to at least some industry leaders. Today, yet another decade later, the concept of employees as the “most valuable resource” is finally gaining broader traction. At its Lean Transformation Summit in March, LEI’s current CEO, John Shook quoted another TPS aphorism that sums up the importance of people to successful Lean transformation: “Build people first, then products.”

The 10th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference (October 1-2, 2014 at the Mass Mutual Center, in Springfield) will pick up the same theme with a program entitled Lead, Enable and Nurture: Putting People First. Featuring both nationally recognized Lean advocates from manufacturing and healthcare (Goodyear, Whirlpool, ThedaCare, IBM, MillerCoors and more) as well as local employee improvement teams sharing their Lean transformations during panel discussions and in the innovative “Lean Lounge,” the event is expected to draw more than 700 attendees from more than 200 different lean thinking organizations.

No surprise - many of those organizations will bring large numbers of their employees. These companies know that it’s those people who will ultimately drive their LEAN process.


Topics: Manufacturing, Productivity, LEAN

Economic Growth Takes a Summer Holiday

Posted by Andre Mayer on Sep 5, 2014 9:58:02 AM

Economic growth appears to have taken a summer holiday during August.

BCI.August.2014Two separate economic reports released this morning suggest that steady, upward momentum in national hiring and in Massachusetts business confidence paused last month during the dog days of summer. Economists are disappointed with the numbers, but stress that both the state and national economy remain far stronger than they were at this time last year.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts announced that its Business Confidence Index lost two points in August to 54.2, while remaining well above its level of a year before (48.7).

“As the elections approach, political uncertainty – particularly at the national level – may be contributing to unease in the employer community,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Historically, the Index has declined in August more often than not,” Torto added. “Economic indicators for the month – financial markets, employment, consumer confidence, the ISM manufacturing index – have been generally positive. On the down side is international news, including conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine and economic problems in Europe.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The business confidence numbers came during a month when U.S. employers hired at a surprising weak pace. The Labor Department reported today that the economy created 142,000 jobs during August, the first time since January that job growth remained below the 200,000 threshold needed to absorb new workers into the labor force.

Economists had been estimating a 225,000 jump in payrolls. The unemployment rate dropped 0.1 percentage point to 6.1 percent last month.

Overall, the economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in the second quarter, compared with a 2.1 percent contraction in the first three months of 2014. Economists foresee a growth rate of about 3 percent in the second half of this year.

Many observers believe the economy is still finding equilibrium after swinging from first-quarter contraction to a catch-up period during the second quarter as companies restocked inventories and resumed normal activity delayed by bad weather at the beginning of the year.

U.S. employers had been creating an average of 230,000 per month prior to the summer slump.

Massachusetts employers remain more bullish about their own companies than about the economy as a whole.

The Company Index of the AIM confidence report, reflecting survey respondents' assessments of conditions for their own operations, was up 4.1 points on the year to 56.5. The Employment Index was up 5.4 at 54.1; and the Sales Index, the only component to gain from July to August, was up 4.6 points to 58.5.

“We continue to see a moderate upward trend in the employment results,” said BEA member said Alan Clayton-Matthews, professor at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. “The great majority (69%) of employers responding to the survey planned to stand pat on staffing over the next six months, but those expecting to add personnel outnumbered those foreseeing reductions by almost three to one (23%-8%).”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Jobs, Unemployment

Health Spending Comes in Under Benchmark; Employers Wary as Premiums Level Off

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 2, 2014 2:16:00 PM

First, the good news – spending on health care in Massachusetts increased a modest 2.3 percent during 2013, well below the 3.6 percent objective set in the 2012 health-care cost control law. Health insurance premiums, adjusted for inflation, declined during the year, while benefit levels remained virtually unchanged.

20-Price-of-pills.smallNow, the bad news – The increase in medical spending exceeded the 1.5 percent rate of inflation as Massachusetts patients spent $50.5 billion - that's $7,550 per person – on medical care last year. Massachusetts employers, meanwhile still pay the highest health-insurance premiums in the country.

The release this morning of the first comprehensive study of medical cost trends in Massachusetts is a riddle for employers struggling with the high cost of providing insurance to workers.

The fact that medical spending increases came in well below the overall rate of economic growth is a “win” for the economy, confirming AIM’s long-held positon that the benchmark should have been set lower – two percentage points below gross state product. At the same time, the easing of health spending and premium costs largely reflects a national trend that is unlikely to last as employers face rate increases from federal health reform in 2014.

Rick Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, told radio station WBUR this morning that members continue to rate health care costs as their top concern.

“That’s not a big surprise,” Lord says, “because even though we came off a year where increases were pretty modest, “we also know that health care costs on a per-capita basis are the highest in the country, so that puts [employers in Massachusetts] at a competitive disadvantage.”

Individuals and small employers saw the largest increase in health-insurance premiums between 2012 and 2013, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). Premiums for small groups of between one and 50 enrollees rose 0.4 percent, while those for mid-size groups of 51 to 100 enrollees jumped 0.5 percent.

Groups with 101-499 enrollees saw a 0.2 percent decrease and those with more than 500 enrollees saw rates drop 0.8 percent.

The CHIA report finds that almost two-thirds of all medical spending in Massachusetts comes through public programs such as Medicare and MassHealth. Those public programs are posting much faster spending growth than the private sector - commercially insured medical spending grew by 2.2 percent in 2013, while spending through Medicare rose 3.1 percent and MassHealth spending jumped 4.7 percent.

Massachusetts employers paid an average of three-quarters of total premiums in 2013, with employees footing the remaining 26 percent. Cost-sharing for medical care was unchanged between 2012 and 2013 at an average of $48 per member per month.

Employers also continue to migrate toward self-insured plans, under which an insurer provides administrative services but the employer holds the insurance risk for the coverage. Approximately 58 percent of Massachusetts members enrolled in commercial coverage were enrolled in self-insured coverage during 2013, an increase of one percentage point over the previous year.

The lull in premium increases during 2013 may have been the eye of the storm for small businesses, some of which encountered premium increases of more than 50 percent this year because of rating changes required by the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The ACA limits to four the rating factors used to calculate small group health insurance premiums, while current Massachusetts law allows for additional consideration of factors such as industry, participation rate, group size, intermediary discount and group purchasing cooperatives.

A study by health insurance companies indicates that the rating changes have raised or lowered rates for small companies by up to 57 percent, on top of average increases of 3.7 percent in their base insurance premiums.

A separate survey by AIM found that 60 percent of small employers who renewed their health insurance policies on January 1 saw increased premiums. Among the employers who said they would consider making changes to their health plans as a result of the increases, 20 percent told AIM they plan to drop coverage all together because the price hikes are unaffordable.  As one member said, “We have not had a pay increase in 12 years and an 18 percent increase in our insurance is deplorable.”

The most optimistic employers might look at the good news in the CHIA report and agree with G.K. Chesterton that “progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” Most employers, however, will want to see a lot more progress on Massachusetts most-expensive-in-the-nation health costs before throwing around any superlatives.

Topics: Health Care Reform, Health Care Costs, Benefits

Some Good News about Medicare

Posted by Andre Mayer on Aug 28, 2014 4:51:28 PM

An otherwise mixed report yesterday from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) offered some good news about what was supposed to be the most intractable aspect of federal deficit spending. For the sixth consecutive year, the CBO lowered its projections for the cost of Medicare, because of slower growth (or even outright decline) in expenditure per participant. Since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was enacted, estimates for the decade through 2020 are down by some $700 billion.

In recent years three distinct federal deficits have raised serious concern about our nation’s future. The first, the budget deficit, is manageable – the last four Clinton budgets, before the Bush tax cuts, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession, were balanced. The second, the projected Social Security deficit, is hardly comparable to the pension crises faced by some European nations; pillowed by its trust fund, our system can be stabilized by further tweaks similar to those already made.

Medicare appeared to be the greatest threat because adverse demographic trends (the aging of the Baby Boom generation) were coupled with a seemingly inexorable rise in health care costs, at rates far above any calculation of cost of living. And the most widely touted remedy, raising the age of eligibility, would cut government spending by shifting the burden to employers. New hope on Medicare costs should help us face up to the long-term fiscal challenges that our country confronts.

Topics: Affordable care Act, Budget

Woman-Owned Family Business Perseveres

Posted by Katherine Fairbanks on Aug 28, 2014 1:08:00 PM

Editor’s note - Katherine Fairbanks, CEO of of DirtyGirl Disposal, will be a panelist at “Women in Power and Control of Family Business” sponsored by the Family Business Association on September 11.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry can be an intimidating endeavor. I speak from first-hand experience running a company in the waste industry, where only about 1 percent of businesses are managed by women.

Katherine.FairbanksBut being a “dirty girl” in the rough-and-tumble world of waste hauling also has its rewards, chief among them having persevered building a company - powered by all female drivers - that continues to grow market share in central Massachusetts. There is also the satisfaction of seeing three children grow up during the company’s tough years and learn some valuable lessons about business and people.

DirtyGirl Disposal is in business to provide roll-off containers and compactors to haul trash, construction and demolition waste and recyclable waste. We can also provide the labor to clear out the debris from your location.

We are located in the Worcester area and provide services within a 30-mile radius. That translates to areas just West of Boston to just East of Springfield, along the Route 2 Corridor (approximately Athol to Acton), up to the Fitchburg area and down to the Connecticut border. There are plans to expand our service area, as we continue to grow.

Our customers include residential accounts, property managers, commercial accounts, small businesses and contractors.

Some of the challenges I have faced underscore a persistent and insidious sexism that runs through industries in which women have not traditionally held leadership roles. Other challenges reflect the everyday complexities of running a small, family business.

I recall vividly standing in a courtroom 12 years ago as a judge deciding the fate of a predecessor company told me, “Go home and take care of your children. This is not a woman’s business.” Several years later, I was negotiating with a contractor working for the state (there are guidelines suggesting the integration of women, minority, veteran and other disadvantaged groups into state spending) when the procurement person said to me, “We pay our current hauler x dollars. Give us a proposal for 20 percent less.”

I kept thinking, how is this justified? My business has the same equipment, the same labor costs, and the same (or higher) disposal costs. I gave the company a proposal that was 8-10 percent less than what they were paying and we’ve not seen any work to date.

Ultimately, however, I don’t believe the way to navigate gender-based disparities or challenges is to be an in your face, make it change, force the issue kind of woman.   My style is much more relaxed and subtle.   I believe in communication and collaboration.   I know that we can provide exceptional service.   I know that there are people out there in the business world who get it.

DirtyGirl Disposal is proof, as we continue to scale our business. I know the differences that we are making in our little corner are setting a precedent and empowering other women to believe in themselves.

And we’re having fun doing it. For example, we name our disposal containers after inspirational women in history – Rosie the Riveter, suffragette Alice Paul, abolitionist Harriett Tubman and environmentalist Rachel Carson. One of our most popular tongue-in-cheek marketing tag lines is: “Ever been dumped by a DirtyGirl?”

The challenges and opportunities of being a female owner are magnified by the complex dynamics of family business. Having three children involved in a company means balancing the need for efficiency, customer service and accountability with all the moods, disorganization and communication issues that go along with raising children.

It’s been quite a learning experience for my son and two daughters. They have seen customers cancel service and new customers sign up for service.  They've heard stories of satisfaction and fielded complaints. And they have used that experience to develop a keen understanding of the ways in which businesses succeed.

We now celebrate together the success that has come from the challenges that have made us what we are.


Topics: Family business, Entrepreneurs

LoJack Exec: Planning, Integration Key to M&A

Posted by Gary MacDonald on Aug 22, 2014 12:02:00 PM

An increasingly competitive world virtually demands growth strategies accelerated through mergers and acquisitions, but achieving M&A success is daunting.

HandshakeThe chief executive must set the context for M&A strategy and focus the organization on forward integration of new resources, processes and values, a corporate development expert told the AIM CEO Connection recently.

Doug Flood, Vice President of Corporate Development at LoJack Corporation, said that M&A requires new metrics, leadership and capabilities. The CEO must communicate relentlessly, Flood said, to integrate the new business successfully with the core business.

It is that integration that drives most value in M&A, according to Flood.

He made his comments during a discussion on Growth Strategies with a dozen chief executives taking part in the CEO Connection in Medway. Flood told the CEOs that integration planning and process are critical to handling the surprises that inevitably arise in the rapid-change environment of a merger or acquisition.

The CEO must:

  • Define the corporate plan that is the foundation for M&A strategy as a means to reach the envisioned future of the business;
  • Commit the necessary senior leadership time;
  • Build relationships to mitigate risk as the new business is explored and change is executed;
  • Define and follow a disciplined M&A process with deliberate speed and passion; and
  • Drive focus on integration according to plan, and according to what the team discovers including the unanticipated.

“Above all else, the CEO must drive the focus on appropriate integration of the new business,” Flood said.

“That means preparing the company to be changed amid accelerated growth - ensuring the right leaders and champions are in place, and communicating the strategic context and execution progress to all stakeholders so they can understand and contribute.”

Veda Ferlazzo Clark, the former chief executive who moderates CEO Connection, said participants choose the topics for each meeting and that there was keen interest in the management role in M&A. Each session of the CEO Connection includes a presentation from an outside expert, open discussion and a company tour.

“These CEOs learn a tremendous amount from one another. It’s a uniquely valuable exercise for people who are sometimes very much on their own in making important decisions,” Clark said.

Manufacturing CEOs interested in joining the AIM CEO Connection should contact either Brian Gilmore ( or Gary MacDonald (


Topics: Manufacturing, Massachusetts Manufacturing, Mergers & Acquisitions

Independent Candidates for Massachusetts Governor Share Views

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Aug 22, 2014 9:37:00 AM

Two independent candidates for governor of Massachusetts, Evan Falchuk and Jeff McCormick, discussed their views recently as part of an ongoing series of In the News conversations with the candidates sponsored by AIM, Denterlein and NAIOP Massachusetts.

Falchuk is the former president of the health-care company Best Doctors. He is running as the candidate of the United Independent Party, which he founded with a mandate that "everyone is equal, everyone's civil rights must be protected and that the government must spend our money wisely."

McCormick founded Saturn Partners in 1993, financing and growing early stage companies that include Boston Duck Tours, Twin Rivers Technologies, and the e-marketing firm Constant Contact in Waltham. He maintains that government has a targeted role to play in nurturing innovation and solving problems -  from providing accountable leadership, to introducing new ideas, to stepping out of the way.

Here are excerpts of the conversations with former news anchor R.D. Sahl, senior advisor at Denterlein. AIM, Denterlein and NAIOP Massachusetts will post full interviews of all the candidates in September.


Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Election 2014

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