For Immediate Release - January 12, 2017

Baker-Polito administration releases report with recommendations around skill-building strategies

Commonwealth Corp. researched job market and education trends to develop suggestions

BOSTON, MA – To build the skills of residents who are unemployed or underemployed, the Commonwealth needs to enhance learning opportunities for adults without college degrees, continue to foster partnerships between vocational schools and businesses, and expand “learn and earn” opportunities such as apprenticeships and internships, Commonwealth Corporation recommends in a report released today.  

Commonwealth Corp. — the quasi-state agency that falls under the umbrella of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development — developed the report to inform policy and guide decision-making in the workforce development and education arenas. Researchers looked at current labor market conditions and trends in order to come up with recommendations to strengthen strategies around building skills of Massachusetts residents.

“The Commonwealth continues to invest in what is working, while also moving forward with new strategies,” Governor Charlie Baker said. “While our state’s economy is strong, we can enable businesses and individuals to thrive by supporting the future development of our workforce.”

“Our administration, through the Workforce Skills Cabinet, has been pleased to undertake much of the important work highlighted in this report through regional partnerships and skill building, and will continue to refine and shape our strategies for future growth,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said. 

Using data from a variety of federal and state sources, the report documents statewide trends, and juxtaposes Massachusetts to the nation. 

“We often talk about the skills gap as a problem faced by states across the nation. We also see it as opportunity to drive new strategies around skill-building to help those who are unemployed and underemployed compete for jobs and meet businesses’ demand for talent,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker, II said. “This report details ideas to drive that conversation.”

Constant changes in technology and globalization make it imperative for the Commonwealth to increase opportunities for skill acquisition; build strong communication lines with industry; and create effective career “on-ramps” for younger workers through apprenticeships, internships and learn-while-you-earn opportunities, according to researchers at Commonwealth Corp.

“This report points to the need to accelerate skill development for adults without post-secondary education and strengthen transitions from school to work for younger workers,” Commonwealth Corporation President Nancy Snyder said. “With a tight labor market, we need to optimally engage our entire workforce.”

“Across the Commonwealth we hear employers worry they won’t be able to fill open positions with skilled workers as current employees retire,” Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash said. “Our goal has always been to approach workforce development holistically, bringing together expertise from across the administration, and this report highlights the importance of thoughtful collaboration to drive effective policy.”

“This report underscores our need to continue the important work of ensuring that students and adult learners of all backgrounds are able to access accelerated educational pathways to build the skills needed for a 21st century workforce,” Education Secretary Jim Peyser said.

According to the research, the Massachusetts economy exceeds the national average for industries that require a bachelor’s degree or higher, with those industries continuing to grow here.

Massachusetts has the most highly educated workforce of any state, with 43 percent of the state’s workforce holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, and a 36 percent growth rate since 2000 in the number of residents with a masters’ degree or higher.

Yet, this educated workforce is aging. Approximately 54 percent of the labor force is 45 or older.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • The share of the labor force with a master’s degree or higher has grown from 14.8 percent in 2000 to 18.1 percent in 2012 to 2014.
  • Residents with bachelor’s degrees grew from 22.3 percent in 2000 to 25.1 percent in 2012-2014.
  • In an economy that places a high degree of value on credentials, educational attainment continues to lag for some minority groups, with Black and Hispanic workers having the lowest share of bachelor degrees or higher.
  • Massachusetts continues to see disproportionate unemployment among workers with a high school diploma or less and among younger workers 16 to 24 years old.
    • Workers with a high school diploma or less make up 31 percent of the labor force, and 50 percent of the unemployed.
    • Young workers, 16 to 24, make up 13 percent of the labor force and 27 percent of the unemployed.
    • Teen employment has fallen dramatically since 1999 from 54 percent to 29 percent.
  • Massachusetts’ labor force growth continues to depend on immigration, although for the first time in many years the state is experiencing growth in the native-born population.

The report makes the following recommendations to help tackle the problems around skill development facing the state in the next decade.

>> Accelerate learning for adults without post-secondary degrees: It is critical adults with high school diplomas or less have opportunities to learn new skills.

>> Boost pathways for younger adults struggling to connect to job market: A lack of “soft skills” among young people is a complaint repeated by the business community. The state should expand work-readiness training for teens and young adults. Signal Success, a job-readiness curriculum for high school students developed by Commonwealth Corp., expanded the number of programs offered last year, helping thousands of students get the “soft skills” they need to get a job. 

>> Leverage relationships, instructors and equipment in Career Vocational and Technical Education (CVTE): CVTE has proven successful in preparing high school students and adults for skilled jobs that are in demand in a wide-range of fields, including STEM, advanced manufacturing, health care, automotive, welding, building trades, and information technology. Continued funding of capital equipment grants and sector training grants will expand the training capacity of CVTE and align it with industry demand.

The Baker-Polito Administration awarded more than $12 million last year in Workforce Skills Capital grants to vocational high schools, community colleges and other educational institutions to purchase technical equipment and expand capacity of training programs.

>> Expand “Learn and Earn” strategies: Apprenticeships and on-the-job training provide skill development, certification and upward mobility for workers who may not have – or need –a college degree. Strong apprenticeship programs exist in the construction field and other trades, and have started to gain momentum in manufacturing, health care, and information technology. The Commonwealth should encourage and promote apprenticeships in new sectors and fields that do not have a history of apprenticeship training.

Last year, the Baker-Polito Administration was awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to expand apprenticeships opportunities in education and health care. The grant will create 2,000 new apprenticeship opportunities over three years, and will also assist with on-the-job training and related instruction at the Commonwealth’s community colleges. The Administration also invested $1 million in the Workforce Training Fund for on-the-job training opportunities for Massachusetts residents who have been unemployed for six months or longer.

>> Expand regional sector partnerships to provide training for jobs in-demand: Regional sector partnerships bring together business, education and workforce organizations to train unemployed and underemployed individuals for jobs that are in demand. The Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund supports training that enhances a talent pipeline for industries experiencing skill shortages. In an economy with a low unemployment rate, the sector-based model can be used to prepare people with limited or no attachment to the labor force, growing the skilled labor pool in the state. In Fiscal Year ’16, the Baker-Polito Administration invested $2 million in the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, marking the first time the fund received state appropriations in two consecutive years.

>>Invest in ongoing skill development of employed workers and Massachusetts businesses: The Commonwealth supports training for incumbent workers to meet businesses’ needs and help strengthen their competitive position with a unique program called the Workforce Training Fund. With the challenge of Baby Boomer retirements, the Workforce Training Fund is considered a resource to invest in the skills of workers and train supervisors and managers for leadership succession.  In fiscal year 2016, the Baker-Polito Administration awarded $18.2 million to 185 businesses to train nearly 14,000 workers.

To read the full report: http://commcorp.org/resources/closing-skills-gap-meeting-demand-skills-growing-economy/