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.
The 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.