The cornerstone recommendation of the new Associated Industries of Massachusetts long-term economic plan, Blueprint for the Next Century, is for “business and government to develop the best system in the world for educating and training workers with the skills needed to allow Massachusetts companies to succeed in a rapidly changing global economy.”
No surprise, then, that employers are encouraged by Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement this morning that he will create a “Workforce Skills Cabinet” to ensure that citizens have the skills and education needed by Massachusetts companies.
The cabinet will consult with individuals, businesses, government agencies and community-based organizations to identify ways to improve work force skills, job readiness and vocational education opportunities. Recommendations will take into account the differing economic and demographic needs of each region, from the Berkshires to the Boston-Cambridge technology nexus.
“A talented workforce and growing economy are inseparable and Massachusetts has an opportunity to capitalize on both by ensuring our workers have the skills to meet the needs of employers in the 21st century economy,” Baker said in a statement.
“The different regions that make up Massachusetts will require dynamic strategies to address the work force skills gap, but by increasing our communication and coordination, we can prepare individuals across the Commonwealth for the family-sustaining jobs of the future.”
Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Ronald Walker will chair the Workforce Skills Cabinet, which will also include Secretary of Education James Peyser and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash.
The inability to locate and hire skilled employees was by far the top concern expressed by Massachusetts employers last year as AIM developed the Blueprint for the Next Century to mark the organization’s centennial. The skills issue crosses almost every industry, from manufacturers in the Pioneer Valley to software companies in Boston’s Innovation District to research and engineering firms on the North Shore.
Among the suggestions that AIM makes to address the skills gap are:
- Take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Work Force Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 to align the commonwealth’s work-force training programs with the needs of employers and job seekers. The act requires Massachusetts to develop a four-year strategy — in the form of a single, unified strategic plan for core programs — for preparing an educated and skilled work force and meeting the hiring needs of employers.
- Employers, government and citizens must together elevate the role of vocational education and its potential to provide people the skills they need to realize their economic dreams.
- Conduct a comprehensive best-practices audit to determine the best approaches to work-force training being used in other states and countries.
- Expand performance-based funding for Massachusetts community colleges and public four-year institutions.
- Global companies with a significant presence in Massachusetts should establish partnerships that harness the intellectual capital of the region’s colleges and universities. State government should consider modest financial incentives to encourage such partnerships.
- Employers must establish a consistent level of engagement with educational institutions and training providers to ensure a pool of skilled potential employees.
We look forward to the Workforce Skills Cabinet adding its own proposals to the debate.
AIM members who have ideas about how to improve the state’s work force development infrastructure are encouraged to contact me at email@example.com.