In the following op-ed, Tonja Mettlach, Executive Director of MWA and Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of JVS Boston, urge the Massachusetts legislature to move quickly to invest federal dollars in workforce development so that job seekers on the margins can receive the support they need to find good jobs. (This op-ed was originally published on August 12th in the Boston Business Journal online. Click here to read that version.)
Mohamed immigrated from Morocco to Boston in 2016 and began working in a downtown hotel. As his English improved, he was able to move from the back of the house to doorman, earning a good salary. When his hotel closed in March 2020, he re-examined his career path.
Susana lost her position in a leading suburban restaurant that laid off three-quarters of its staff. She had climbed the career ladder to be a sous chef, with aspirations to become a chef. In January, after struggling to keep up with expenses even with extended unemployment insurance, she reached out to the North Shore MassHire Career Center, and received help to transfer her skills to a new position in a hospital dietary department.
This winter, Mohamed enrolled in the biotech class at JVS Boston, taking online classes, preparing for his certificate program at Quincy College, and his new career as a lab technician in Boston’s growing life sciences industry. Mohamed and Susana are just two examples of people who lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 recession, but fortunately have found their way to high-quality short-term training and employment programs delivered remotely and supported by federal, state, employer and philanthropic resources.
The Covid crisis was unlike the 2008 Great Recession. In this recession, 1.9 million Massachusetts residents experienced an employment interruption, disproportionately hitting several sectors such as hospitality, and primarily impacting low-income people of color.
With hundreds of thousands out of work across the Commonwealth, and many likely to face long-term unemployment when federal pandemic unemployment compensation ends, it is incumbent on public- and private-sector leaders to mobilize and invest in proven solutions.
Unemployed workers will either need to pivot to new jobs and industries using transferable skills, or they will need job training. With federal funding for workforce development having declined by nearly one-third over the past six years, and the current demand for services overwhelming a chronically underfunded system, we must do more, quickly. In the white paper “Rapid ReEmployment for a Just and Equitable Recovery in Massachusetts,” several workforce development organizations propose five recommendations:
- Expand technical training
Unemployed workers like Mohammed will need to learn new skills to transition into new industries. Rapidly scaling proven vocational skills training programs and utilizing Career and Technical High Schools for adult training can meet this demand.
- Expand programs for speakers of other languages
Non-native English speakers will need to improve their English and gain vocational skills to re-enter the labor force. ESOL for Work programs reduce unemployment and boost productivity.
- Invest in digital access proficiency and capacity
Investments in broadband internet access, computers and tablets, and digital skills can bridge the digital divide, helping workers access more opportunities.
- Fully fund existing workforce system capacity
Massachusetts’ network of MassHire Career Centers has been underfunded federally since the last recession. Now is the time to invest in technology modernization and full staffing.
- Prioritize and fund work supports
The abrupt closure of schools and childcare centers highlighted the need for accessible and affordable childcare, transportation, housing, and food.
We have seen the pandemic shatter lives through illness, unemployment and rising poverty. As we move towards economic recovery, we have an opportunity and an obligation to help those most hurt over the past year to rejoin a Commonwealth that works for all its residents.