TWO Is One Solid Strategy for Region

When the Boston Foundation issued a report in 2011 that came down hard on the state’s community colleges, including those in the four western counties, for not doing enough to properly train individuals for jobs in the state’s knowledge-based economy, the initial reaction locally was to be defensive and try to shoot holes in the report.

Eventually, though, administrators at area schools came to acknowledge that maybe the Boston Foundation was right, at least on some points, and that community colleges were slow — and quite reactionary — when it came to workforce issues, and were too insular in their approach to problem solving.

As a result, Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College created TWO (Training & Workforce Options) to not only answer the Boston Foundation’s criticism but address one of this region’s most critical — and nagging — problems, the so-called skills gap.

This gap — actually, it’s a series of gaps — is the primary reason why, despite high unemployment rates, companies across many sectors of the economy continue to struggle mightily to fill positions. And it also explains why many individuals have been unable to break through and attain some of the attractive jobs being created in this technology-driven economy.

TWO addresses these gaps through collaborative initiatives involving a host of partners — from area businesses of all sizes to workforce-development-related agencies such as the regional employment boards and other colleges and universities — and in three short years, it has enjoyed considerable success in closing some of them.

So much so that the Boston Foundation awarded the two colleges, which applied jointly, the first Deval Patrick Award for efforts to address workforce issues (see story on facing page). Both schools are rightfully proud of that honor, but they should be more proud of why they won — because of the success stories written in conjunction with those aforementioned partners.

Some are large in scale, such as the advanced call center and customer service certificate program, which has trained individuals for jobs in the growing number of call centers across the region and placed them with many of those operations, and a medical coding incumbent worker training academy, which has involved more than 50 companies and helped ready them for the impact of a new and much more detailed coding system.

However, many others are small in scope, involving a particular company, but certainly not insignificant in terms of impact on the big picture — the overall health and well-being of the business community.

As we’ve said before on many occasions, the broad realm of economic development is not confined to filling industrial parks with tenants, luring large employers to the area, or spurring the development and growth of new sectors such as the biosciences and clean energy. Indeed, it also involves initiatives to help existing companies thrive and improve any region’s best asset when it comes to economic growth — its workforce.

Thus, TWO has become a vitally important economic-development program, one that will hopefully grow and involve more companies in this region and also inspire other regions of the state to do similar things and thus help close the considerable gap between this state’s haves and its have-nots.

The Deval Patrick Award might help with all that, and we hope it does. That will be a far bigger reward than the cash prize that goes to the two colleges, and one that truly reflects the importance of this unique initiative.

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