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Opinion

Opinion

By Gretchen Harrison

Massachusetts employers project lower wage and salary increases, a consistent level of recruitment activity, and moderating health-insurance premium increases for 2020 after navigating a solid but volatile economy during 2019.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) recently published its 2020 HR Practices Report, showing that companies project a 2.77% salary-increase budget for 2020, consistent with the 2.71% actual increase reported for 2019 but down from the 2.86% reported in the 2018 HR Practices Report.

Meanwhile, national salary-increase projections for 2020 have risen slightly from the prior year to 3.3%. Salary-increase trends in Massachusetts have tended to lag national numbers in recent years, and the gap has begun to widen.

How does a state with a 2.9% unemployment rate, a persistent shortage of skilled workers, and an impending demographic cliff show slower wage growth than the rest of the nation? Survey data suggest several reasons.

First, escalating regulatory costs (minimum wage) and non-wage compensation costs (health insurance and paid family and medical leave) are making employers cautious about increasing pay. Companies generally have a set compensation budget, so increases in these ancillary costs may put downward pressure on wages. In addition, the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act may be limiting the degree to which employers are able to offer compensation incentives to ‘superstar’ job candidates.

Members of the AIM Board of Economic Advisers offer additional explanations:

• Wages are already much higher than the national average in Massachusetts, meaning increases represent a smaller percentage of total wages.

• Massachusetts is aging quickly. Older workers are at a steadier place in their careers and see slower wage growth. As they retire, they are replaced by less expensive younger workers. This is a natural drag on overall wage growth.

• The higher-skill workers who dominate the Massachusetts economy get a significant portion of their compensation in non-wage forms like bonuses, commissions, and stock options. Projected recruitment activity for 2020 is expected to be comparable with actual recruitment experienced in 2019, which saw a significant increase over 2018 volumes.

The wage and salary increase projections come as unemployment in Massachusetts remains at record low levels. And while the state economy contracted by 0.2% during the third quarter, analysts say the downturn does not appear to indicate the beginning of a recession, but rather the capacity limits against which the state is bumping.

These include the barriers to labor-force growth presented by an aging population as the departure of Baby Boomers from the regional workforce continues.

Gretchen Harrison is director of AIM HR Solutions.

Opinion

Opinion

By Sue Kline

It’s an autumn afternoon at the Morgan School in Holyoke, and Superintendent Stephen Zrike Jr. is performing what might look like a magic trick, or maybe a minor miracle: he has the quiet, rapt attention of a class full of boisterous preschoolers, who sit in a semicircle with mouths agape and eyes glued on him and what he’s holding in his hand.

It’s not an iPad or a smartphone or a flashy toy or a magic wand — it’s a book. Specifically, it’s The Family Book by Todd Parr, one of four books the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF) is gifting to children in Holyoke Public Schools and Springfield Public Schools this year through Stories to Achieve Reading Success (STARS), an initiative to support early reading and family engagement. After the reading and a discussion, the children — smiling wide and with a bit of shock — receive their own individual copies to take home and read with their families.

For these children, these books are magic: they open doors to new worlds, they offer enchanting stories and illustrations that are just as miraculous on the 50th read as on the first, and the books are theirs to keep forever. In today’s digital age, where screens are ubiquitous and you can read a 1,000-page novel on your phone, there is still something special about holding a beautiful book in your hands.

Parent Ashley Garcia is thrilled with the most recent selection, saying, “I absolutely love how The Family Book acknowledges diversity. Sometimes it can be challenging to explain to young children that all families are unique, yet, despite differences, all families are brought together by one thing, which is love. The colorful pictures and simple words make this a perfect gift.”

HGCF introduced STARS, now in its second year, to advance a simple but urgent goal — to help get kids in Holyoke and Springfield reading from a young age. Abundant academic research suggests strong linkages between early reading and later educational success. That makes STARS much more than a program that makes learning more fun and engaging for children and families; it’s an investment in the long-term futures of these students that can pay dividends for years to come.

Patricia Chavez, Holyoke’s director of Early Childhood Learning, notes that “partnering with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation has been a wonderful opportunity, bolstering the home-to-school connection, something we are always striving toward. Because each book is accompanied with reading tips and ideas for parents, there’s a great opportunity for families to engage.”

STARS gifts four books throughout the year from the established curriculum to 2,400 children in Springfield and Holyoke preschools. The program is a real gem — we’re awed by the extraordinary work being done in classrooms by preschool educators who transmit to youngsters an early love of stories, and very proud that the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation can help extend preschoolers’ positive classroom reading experiences into their homes.”

For more information about STARS and available opportunities to assist in expanding outreach to additional Holyoke and Springfield preschools, e-mail [email protected].

Sue Kline is director of  Stories to Achieve Reading Success.

Opinion

Opinion

By Robert Rio

The climate protesters who took to the streets of Boston earlier this month targeted the wrong people.

If these people really want to impact the climate debate, they should turn their attention outside of a state that is already well on its way to achieving the goals outlined at the State House demonstrations.

Massachusetts has had a law on the books for more than a decade that mandates an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from all sectors (electric generation, transportation, and buildings) by 2050. Admittedly, that isn’t 100%, but worrying about whether Massachusetts meets 80% or 100% misses the larger picture.

There are separate regulations aimed at carbon reduction as well. State policy requires that 80% of electricity be generated using carbon-free sources by 2050. And new proposed regulations by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will move that requirement to nearly 100% during the same time frame. Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) supports the proposed regulations.

The Baker administration has already finalized contracts for one offshore wind farm, and another one is going through the approval process. These developments will leave the region humming with new turbines.

Additionally, a large hydro power project is being routed through Maine to supply about 18% of Massachusetts’ total power. Without hydro power, our transition to carbon-free energy will be delayed for decades because it would take an enormous amount of additional solar or offshore wind to make up for the loss of carbon-free hydro power.

That leaves transportation, which accounts for the largest portion of greenhouse-gas emissions — 45% and growing.

Gov. Baker has been a leader in addressing transportation-based greenhouse gases and is a visible backer of the 12-state (plus the District of Columbia) regional effort to reduce greenhouse gases in the transportation sector known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). AIM has joined with the administration and several environmental groups to support this effort, and the governor is always looking for more support.

TCI will establish a regional cap on carbon emissions while auctioning emissions allowances. Proceeds from the TCI fee will be sent back to each participating state to improve statewide public transportation and to encourage fuel users to purchase alternative vehicles.

A MassINC poll published this month found that a majority of registered voters in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia strongly or somewhat support their home state’s participation in TCI. Some states, however, are balking at joining TCI. Perhaps the Boston climate activists could take their message to other state capitals to ensure that this critical multi-state effort gets off the ground.

Declaring victory and moving on is tough, but it is necessary to move on from Massachusetts and concentrate efforts in those areas where the greatest changes should be made. The best thing for all of us to do is acknowledge our work favorably and let the rest of the nation know it can be done with the right leadership.

Robert Rio is senior vice president, Government Affairs at AIM.

Opinion

Editorial

Ordinarily, a press release announcing that one of the region’s colleges or universities had maintained its accreditation with the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) would barely register as news.

But this was not the case with the recent announcement that NECHE voted to continue the accreditation of Hampshire College. Or ‘embattled Hampshire College,’ as the case may be, because it seems that this adjective has more or less became attached to the school as it has endured severe economic hardship over the past 18 months or so.

Indeed, maintaining accreditation was hardly a foregone conclusion for this school, which has seen enrollment drop dramatically, putting it in fiscal peril. In fact, for some, it seemed like a long shot.

So NECHE’s vote, which essentially buys Hampshire College two years to put itself on much more solid ground, is a milestone, and, hopefully, the first of many.

The vote is affirmation that the school — which has vowed to maintain its independence, launched a major fundraising campaign, hired a new president and several other administrators, and set ambitious goals for enrollment for 2020, its 50th-anniversary year — is on the right track.

Hampshire and its new leader, Ed Wingenbach, said they had a plan, or a path forward. They told NECHE that it is “ambitious, data-driven, and achievable.” And NECHE, apparently, is in agreement.

But this doesn’t mean Hampshire College is out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

While the school maintained its accreditation, there were some caveats, most of them involving what’s known as “institutional resources,’ or the bottom line. Hampshire’s still isn’t very good, and it needs to get much better.

To that end, the school has set about raising $60 million by 2024; an ambitious capital campaign called “Change in the Making: A Campaign for Hampshire” was kicked off at ceremonies on the campus last week. And while Hampshire is off to a great start — more than $11 million has been raised toward that goal, and the school has some good friends that can help it in this endeavor (alumnus Ken Burns is serving as co-chair of the campaign), that is a very big number.

And, as been noted several times over the past few years, demographics and other conditions are not working in Hampshire’s favor as it works to stabilize its future. High-school classes continue to get smaller, and this trend will continue. Meanwhile, the sky-high price of a college education is prompting many young people and their parents to put a premium on value and return on investment when they search for a school, a trend that further endangers small private schools with large price tags — like Hampshire.

Had the school not maintained accreditation, that would have been a virtual death knell. It’s hard enough to attract students considering the conditions listed above; it’s nearly impossible when a school has lost accreditation.

But the announcement from NECHE is merely the first of several milestones that Hampshire must reach. This will still be an uphill battle, but the school has in essence made it through base camp.

Hampshire College has been given an important lease on life. Now, it must make the very most of this opportunity.

Opinion

Opinion

By Kristen Rupert

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and its 3,500 members urge the U.S. Congress to approve the new USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The reason is simple — Canada and Mexico purchase more U.S.-made goods than the next 11 trading partner countries combined. USMCA will help to preserve more than 2 million American manufacturing jobs — at least 15,000 of them in Massachusetts — that rely on trade with Canada and Mexico.

Time is short for Congress to act. The U.S. House and Senate need to pass the USMCA before the year’s end.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Democrats have inched closer to supporting the deal. They have worked to iron out lingering concerns in weeks of talks with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The USMCA was negotiated by the Trump administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). USMCA strengthens and modernizes intellectual-property rules, sets new digital-economy standards, expands U.S. manufacturers’ access to Canada and Mexico, ensures that U.S. companies can sell their products duty-free into these markets, eliminates red tape at the border, and levels the playing field by raising standards, prohibiting anti-U.S. discrimination, and strengthening enforcement.

AIM is in contact with the Massachusetts delegation in Congress to encourage them to pass the USMCA. Gov. Charlie Baker calls the agreement “strong, fair and flexible.” Among the many products that are traded between Massachusetts and Canada and Mexico are auto parts, medical devices, lab instruments, semiconductors, paper products, and aerospace parts. Most of the manufacturing exports from Massachusetts going to Canada and Mexico are produced by small and medium-sized businesses.

AIM urges employers to contact their members of Congress to emphasize how important the USMCA is to manufacturing companies in Massachusetts. Industry associations, individual companies, and elected officials across the U.S. encourage an immediate vote on USMCA.

Kristen Rupert is senior vice president of External Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts and director of AIM’s International Business Council.

Opinion

Opinion

By Alex Zlatin

A company’s intention in a job interview is to find the person who best fits a particular position. But quite often, the candidate who is hired fails, and usually their exit is related to attitude issues that weren’t revealed in the interview.

That raises the question: are interviewers asking the wrong questions — and consequently hiring the wrong people? Some traditional styles of interviewing are outdated, thus wasting time and resources while letting better candidates slip away.

It still astounds me to meet HR professionals who lack the basic skills of interviewing. In 2019, ‘tell me about yourself’ is still a way to start an interview, and that’s absurd. The only thing you get is people who describe the outline of their résumé, which you already know.

Here are some interview approaches to help HR leaders, recruiters, and executives find the right candidate:

• Make it a two-way conversation. Traditional interviewing focuses too much on the candidate’s skills and experience rather than on their motivation, problem-solving ability, and willingness to collaborate. Rather than making most of the interview a rigid, constant question-and-answer format that can be limiting to both sides, have a two-way conversation and invite them to ask plenty of questions.

• Flip their résumé upside down. Surprise them by going outside the box and asking them something about themselves that isn’t on their résumé or in their cover letter. See how creatively they think and whether they stay calm. You want to see how a candidate thinks on their feet — a trait all companies value.

• Ask open-ended questions. Can this candidate make a difference in your company? Answering that question should be a big aim of the interview. Ask questions that allude to how they made a difference in certain situations at their past company. Then present a hypothetical situation and ask how they would respond.

• Don’t ask cliched questions. Some traditional interview questions only lead to candidates telling interviewers what the candidate thinks the company wants to hear. Interviewers should stop asking pointless questions like, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ or ‘why do you want to work for this company?’ Candidates rehearse these answers, and many of them are similar, so that doesn’t allow them to stand apart.

• Learn from the candidate’s questions. The questions candidates ask can indicate how deeply they’ve studied the company and how interested they really are. A good candidate uses questions to learn about the role, the company, and the boss to assess whether it’s the right job for them.

• Don’t take copious notes. The tendency by interviewers to write down the candidate’s answers and other observations is a huge obstacle to building a solid two-way conversation because it removes the crucial element of eye contact.

 

Alex Zlatin is CEO of dental practice-management company Maxim Software Systems.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

Massachusetts is about to undertake the most sweeping restructuring of public-education funding since 1993. What does it mean for employers?

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

However, employers do not support the sort of reform being promoted by some advocates who have been calling at rallies for a ‘blank check’ of billions of dollars of state aid with no accountability.

While the National Assessment of Education Progress indicates that Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation, that same assessment shows significant achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students. Massachusetts finds itself in the bottom half of states with respect to black-white achievement gaps across almost all grades in reading and math and in the bottom third of states with respect to Latino-white achievement gaps across all grades in both reading and math. The achievement gap matters to employers confronting a persistent shortage of qualified workers in an economy running at 2.9% unemployment.

Reforming the school funding formula will probably cost taxpayers around $1 billion. Employers understand better than anyone the importance of making strategic investments, but they also know that pouring money into a broken system is not the answer. Employer support for education reform hinges on the establishment of clear and measurable standards that will allow everyone to determine whether changes are working for students, teachers, and the Commonwealth.

The evidence is clear that more money does not equal better educational performance. AIM insists the following accountability measures be part of any education funding reform:

• Fully implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission through a multi-year, fully funded revision to the Chapter 70 formula that will achieve adequacy and equity for all students.

• Maintain and enhance the state accountability system to ensure new funds go to those students who need them the most and are used effectively to close achievement gaps, set statewide and district targets for closing those gaps with annual reporting on progress, and collect and report on data related to college and career readiness.

• Add a new Chapter 70 enrollment category for Early College and Career Pathways to enable replication and expansion of these high-school reform strategies.

• Provide significant and supplemental funding for innovation and the implementation of best practices in underperforming schools.

• Enact Innovation Partnership Zone legislation to provide communities with a new tool for empowering schools and educators to address persistent low performance and encourage innovation.

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

In the U.S., 150,000 tons of food is wasted every day.

This equals about a pound of food per person, or about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. What may not be totally obvious when we throw out that banana with a brown spot on it, or the slightly mushy red pepper, is that all this food waste contributes to a much bigger problem in America — the waste of about 40% of country’s food production.

This shocking fact shared by the Center for EcoTechnology is a testament for just how serious the food-waste epidemic is.

In addition, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills. The food we throw out affects our lives in more ways than one, including our own financial resources and a bigger carbon footprint.

Thankfully, while food waste remains a huge problem in America and the world, more and more awareness is being brought to this subject, and more action is being taken to significantly reduce this problem. This includes organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit dedicated solely to food rescue and distribution in Massachusetts.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up food from more than 75 vendor partners in refrigerated trucks and serves more than 40 cities and towns across Massachusetts. It focuses primarily on perishable foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, which are the most likely to be wasted, and provides meals to more than 30,000 people a week.

Aside from organizations like this, there are simple ways families can do their part to significantly reduce food waste — everything from planning meals for the week before going to the grocery store to freezing foods that won’t be eaten right away. Looking in the refrigerator and cabinets and cooking food already on hand — and saving leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day — are other habits that add up over 128 million American households.

Businesses are increasingly implementing food-waste reduction strategies as well — spurred in many cases by state regulation. The bottom line is, if everyone tries a little each day to help, significantly less food will be wasted and dumped into landfills.

While Massachusetts in general has been a national leader in addressing food waste, it is important that individuals do their part by implementing their own strategies. With the help of organizations like the Center for EcoTechnology and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we can only hope those shocking food-waste numbers begin to go down in the next several decades.

Opinion

Opinion

By Christine Palmieri

September is National Recovery Month. ‘Recovery’ is a word that gets used a lot in the world of mental health and addiction services, sometimes so much so that I think we can easily lose sight of what it represents. In my role with the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA), I often have the opportunity to talk to newly hired staff about the idea of recovery. We discuss what it means and what it can look like in the context of working with people who have experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, and substance problems.

When I ask new staff the question, “what does it mean to recover?” I frequently hear things like “getting better” or “getting back to where you were” or “having a better quality of life.” Although I tell staff there are no wrong answers to this question, secretly I think there are. They’re common and easy, but insufficient.

As with many things, I think it’s easier to talk about what recovery is by defining what it isn’t. For me, recovery isn’t a cure. It isn’t a finish line or a place people get to. It isn’t a goal that can be neatly summarized in a treatment plan. I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it. Ultimately, though, I think the answer to the question “what does it mean to recover?” should be “it isn’t for me to say.”

I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it.

As providers of services, or as loved ones, community members, and policy makers, I don’t believe it’s up to us to define what recovery means or looks like for people going through it. Each person needs to examine and define what it means to them. For the rest of us, I think the more important question is “what makes recovery possible?” When the question is posed this way, we are able to engage this idea of recovery in a much different and more productive way. This question offers the opportunity to share the responsibility and partner with those we support.

The analogy of a seedling is often used when describing this process of recovery, and one I use when I talk to our new hires about their roles and responsibilities as providers of service. Seeds are remarkable little things. For me, they represent unlimited potential. A seed no bigger than a grain of rice contains within it everything it needs to grow into a giant sequoia. But no seed can grow without the right environmental conditions. No amount of force or assertion of control can make a seed grow. It needs the right soil, the right amount of water, and the right amount of light.

In the same way, within each person who has experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, or problems with substances, I believe there lies unlimited potential for growth, and each person needs the right environment for the process of recovery to take place. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, we very often control that environment. Metaphorically, we provide the soil, the water and the light.

Soil is the place where recovery begins. It offers a place for the seed to grow roots, to gather strength, security, and safety. Soil is what keeps trees rooted tightly to the ground through storms. It is our responsibility to offer environments where people in recovery feel safe and secure, to try out new ways of coping and new ways of managing the difficulties and challenges that life presents to all of us.

Water provides a seedling with essential nourishment. We need to find ways to support people in recovery to discover what truly nourishes them. The work of recovery is hard. It requires taking risks and feeling uncomfortable. We cannot do the work of recovery for anyone else, but we can and should work to help people in recovery find the supportive relationships, meaningful roles, and reasons to do that hard work.

Light provides the energy necessary for growth. In recovery, I believe light is offered through the hope and understanding that every person has within them the potential to live a full and active life in the community, whatever that means for them. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, it is our role to shine the light of hope for people who have experienced discrimination, loss of power and control, and in many cases a loss of their identity. We hold this hope and offer this light because we know, without question, that recovery, however it is defined, is not only possible, but is happening, right now, all around us.

Christine Palmieri is vice president of the Division of Recovery and Housing at MHA.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

A so-called ‘beach party’ set up recently outside the State House by education funding advocates was a disrespectful and frivolous stunt carried out by people who should instead be focused on the well-being and economic futures of Massachusetts schoolchildren.

The point of the beach party, complete with beach balls and shaved ice with flavors such as ‘accountability slime lime,’ was to excoriate the Legislature for going on summer recess without passing a massive restructuring of the funding formula for public schools.

The fiscal 2020 budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed last month includes a $268 million increase in state assistance for K-12 education, but activists want a multi-year commitment to ramp up education spending and address gaps in the quality of education from one community to another. The beach party was the latest in a series of questionable antics perpetrated by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and allies who want billions of dollars in additional education spending with no accountability for results.

In May, Massachusetts Teachers Assoc. President Merrie Najimy posted a photo to Facebook of herself and three other women smiling and clutching fake pearl necklaces with a caption that read, “Alice Peisch, let go of the wealth and #FundOurFuture.”

Rep. Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, often wears pearls, and the prop suggested she could not understand the circumstances of poorer students because she lives in the wealthy suburb of Wellesley.

Members of the teachers union have also been observed at public meetings carrying blank checks to signal their distaste for any measurements to accompany additional spending.

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

The stakes in the debate are enormous, beginning with an estimated price tag in the neighborhood of $1 billion. The governor and the Massachusetts Legislature deserve credit for proceeding cautiously on education reform. u

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.