Two Bills Would Address Skills Shortage

Opinion

 By Katie Holahan

“Blueprint for the Next Century,” a long-term economic plan for Massachusetts prepared by Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), identifies the shortage of qualified workers as the central impediment to the future of the Bay State economy. Worker shortage cross 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.

The 4,000 member employers of AIM believe there are three key steps to addressing the problem:

• Identify opportunities to restructure state workforce-training programs to anticipate both near- and long-term workforce growth;

• Diversify the types of relevant training and education available to students statewide; and

• Allow the public education system the flexibility and adaptability to respond to the needs of the local and regional workforce, so graduates enjoy greater economic opportunity.

Two bills recently released from the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will help Massachusetts achieve the first goal.

The bills, Senate 2109 and House 3804, filed by the late Sen. Ken Donnelly and Rep. Kenneth Gordon, respectively, would allow a transfer of up to $1.1 million, or 5%, of funds from the Workforce Training Fund to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to be used for sector-based job training for non-incumbent workers. The Workforce Training Fund generates revenues via employer assessments, and is normally used to improve the skills of workers who are already on the job.

AIM advocated successfully for a pay-for-performance funding structure in the proposed grant program. Half of the grant funds in the program will be tied to job placement and retention outcomes. The money won’t be released until workers are trained and in their new, full-time jobs for two months. Such discipline and measurement will allow the state to connect the available workforce with employers so that all regions and industries have similar opportunities for success.

Training both incumbent workers and new workers will create the type of flexibility needed to respond to a changing economy while meeting clear job-growth objectives.  As the Commonwealth works to modernize and streamline its workforce-development system, AIM will continue to advocate for such requirements in any similar pieces of workforce legislation.

The creation of a job and a person’s ability to do that job weave together every important aspect of social and economic stability: the desire for a better life, the ability to support a family, the confidence to start a business, and the need to support efficient government management of services like education, healthcare, and public safety.

Katie Holahan is vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. This article first appeared on the AIM blog.

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