Western Massachusetts needs teamwork to take on challenges of future workforce opportunities (Viewpoint)

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The Sunday Republican, in an April 3 editorial, “Workforce needs path to the future,” commented in response to the Future of Work Commission’s report. Baystate Health, a leader in healthcare and workforce innovation, and Tech Foundry, Western Massachusetts’ workforce development organization focused on cutting-edge training in the information technology sector, support many of the recommendations in the report.

We also recognize the urgency of the task before us: to give residents the tools and resources needed to succeed in a rapidly changing economy; to stimulate the post-pandemic recovery by ensuring that organizations have qualified candidates for their jobs; and, through training and education, to ensure that Massachusetts residents can seize these opportunities.

One of the exciting aspects of the report’s recommendations is that the Western Massachusetts workforce development ecosystem is broadly “ahead of the game” in implementing many of the best practices in the report.

As The Republican noted, creating job training programs which connect workers to new technology is a key strategy to helping Massachusetts residents access opportunities in the post-COVID economy. In addition, integrating employer feedback and partnerships enables the creation of relevant and stackable work credentials and accessible career pathways. Tech Foundry has utilized these strategies since its founding in 2014 and remains committed to working with current and new partners to include new opportunities in skills acquisition and career growth.

Integration of social, emotional and family stability to ensure worker success: “Two Generation” and “Whole Family” approaches to workforce development are successfully utilized by organizations like SpringfieldWorks, an initiative of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts and its partners, to help residents succeed. In addition, Baystate’s employee wellness and well-being investments are designed to support parenting and caregiving workers to achieve this goal. Similarly, Tech Foundry integrates individualized coaching throughout our training and internships to support the same goals.

Investment in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts: Bringing a DEI lens to workforce development is a priority of many of local organizations, and the results can be seen in the increasing diversity of participants, staff and board members. For Tech Foundry, DEI efforts include a particular focus on digital equity for BIPOC communities, through outreach, training and career support. Because increasing automation in the workplace will disproportionately displace women, Black and Hispanic workers, reskilling and upskilling for these residents of the commonwealth will ensure more opportunities in the increasingly technology-focused economy. Equally important, defined career pathways in technology or health care can also counteract the growing wage gap, which has “urgent racial equity implications” in the commonwealth, the Future of Work Commission report concluded.

The impact of the digital divide: The circumstance in which some Massachusetts residents do not have access to the devices, internet connectivity or skills to utilize technology effectively for work, education and personal connections, was highly evident during the pandemic. Addressing this unjust imbalance is part of Tech Foundry’s focus, as well as that of the Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity, a regional coalition of rural, suburban, and urban communities in which Baystate Health, Office of Public Health is the sponsor. With better connectivity and technical knowledge, our neighbors throughout the state can effectively job-hunt, participate in online education and training, connect to friends and family and access “middle skilled” jobs which require technical literacy.

While the “413″ should be proud of the initiatives already underway in our region, now is the time to amplify our region’s collaborative work to innovate, train residents and connect more people to living wage jobs while helping our employers develop and retain the workforce for today – and the future. From the “boots on the ground” perspective shared by Baystate Health and Tech Foundry, there is much that can be done to seize the opportunity of our current moment. Specifically, we urge our policymakers, legislators, business and community leaders to act upon the following:

  • Increase funding so successful workforce development programs can double, triple or even quadruple the number of people that we’re serving through training, coaching and post-job placement support – as well as ongoing career direction. Award multi-year grants so organizations can focus on results. With 30,000 to 40,000 residents who will need training each year over the next decade, our entire commonwealth has “skin in the game” to support the workforce of the future in priority fields like healthcare, technology, education and advanced manufacturing;
  • Collect, evaluate and publish data, utilizing streamlined programs to minimize administrative time in favor of staff focus on programs: one of the most encouraging aspects of the Future of Work’s recommendations is to increase transparency around efficacy and results of programs. This should include statistics on long term job retention by training participants, as well as identification of best practices on how to support workers to persist and advance in careers over time; and
  • Expand and extend existing programs like the Hire Now program so employers will onboard non-traditional applicants. Consider funding, tax credits and other incentives to create new initiatives to encourage hiring managers to participate in workforce development partnerships in meaningful ways. This could include advising on curriculum, hosting interns, and coaching and mentoring trainees, apprentices and staff.

The Baker Administration, along with the legislature and committee members invested significant time and research into producing the Future of Work report. Now is the time for everyone in the commonwealth to “roll up our sleeves” to embrace the opportunities ahead. The staff, boards and partners of both Baystate Health and Tech Foundry stand ready to scale our programs to retrain, upskill and educate people from around Western Massachusetts in partnership with local and state entities, stakeholders and residents around the region.

Tricia Canavan is CEO of Tech Foundry; to learn more about Tech Foundry and its work, go online to: thetechfoundry.org.

Frank Robinson is vice president for public health and community relations for Baystate Health; to learn more about Baystate Health’s public health initiatives, go online to: baystatehealth.org/about-us/community-programs.

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