Thursday, April 3, 2014

Workforce Training: A Public AND Private Duty

Your workforce is your most valuable asset. The knowledge and skills they have represent the fuel that drives the engine of business.”

-- Harvey Mackay, 2010

As previously discussed in this space, the Harbor power plant in Salem, Mass. is transitioning from coal to natural gas. As a result, most of the plant’s 105 workers will be laid off at the end of May.

Last week, the Boston Globe discussed the next steps for many of these workers, including how both public and private actors have roles to play in workforce training and redevelopment.

On the government side, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act is designed to give families “transition time” to find other employment or seek additional training to make them more competitive on the job market. Furthermore, the Workforce Training Act of 1998 established “One-Stop” career centers for displaced workers to seek out new opportunities and resources (one such center is located right in Salem, with others in surrounding communities).

There is a clear need for improvement in government-sponsored workforce development training. All too often workforce development dollars are poorly coordinated and only tangentially linked to long-term economic trends in particular communities.

As former Speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn noted last year, NYC’s system is a “disjoined mess” where workforce development is viewed as little more than an afterthought. “First we create the jobs, then we make sure New Yorkers have the skills to do the jobs. That’s looking at it backwards.”

Indeed, as the Center for an Urban Future reported, while 56 percent of all new job openings in 2012 in NYC required a post-secondary degree, only 42 percent of adult residents possessed one. This state of affairs has led many, including the Partnership for New York City, to call for an overhaul of workforce development in NYC.

As a result, taxpayers are right to question whether the billions of dollars in workforce training dollars are truly being spent efficiently. We’ll dive into this issue more and seek out solutions in future posts.

Today, however, I want to look at how private industry has a duty to play a role in workforce development as well—not only by growing opportunity within their own company, but in helping those workers displaced by the creative destruction inherent to market economies.
Salem Power Plant: Site of "Creative Destruction" and Renewal?
Photo by flickr user "massmatt" (Creative Commons license)

In Salem, the company taking control of the plant, Footprint Power, has “made $500,000 available to help workers train for new jobs…Some workers already have started to retrain as truck drivers, fuel burner technicians, or in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning field.”

Footprint is setting a great example for other companies who want to do more than just issue pink slips and wash their hands of the real world effects of corporate change on the lives of everyday Americans. But more can and should be done to integrate public and private efforts at workforce training and redevelopment.

In the Bay State, the Workforce Training Fund is designed to provide training and technical assistance grants to small and medium sized businesses. The Fund is 100 percent funded by Massachusetts employers and overseen by the quasi-public Commonwealth Corporation. Money is distributed through a competitive grant process that prioritizes projects that will create jobs, improve productivity, and increase the competitiveness of the Commonwealth’s workforce.

In FY 2013, the Fund distributed over $12 million in grants to 147 applicants in cities and towns throughout Massachusetts. North Shore companies that benefitted include Danvers-based XTechnology Global (specialized computer training for 16 workers), Lynn-based Traditional Breads (managerial and safety training for 50 workers), and Newburyport’s Crystal Engineering (technical training and certification for 25 workers).

By ensuring that employers can exercise direct control over projects, the Workforce Training Fund encourages a much tighter “fit” between workforce spending and the needs of the business community. However, as with many workforce development tools, the Fund still needs additional procedures/follow-up to determine the efficacy of its spending using measurable metrics.

Building a labor force that can successfully compete in a global economy requires an all-hands-on-deck approach and a commitment, from both public and private sectors, to carefully define the skills gap and make targeted investments to improve workforce readiness.

Industries will rise and fall. Companies will come and go. Jobs will be created and destroyed. But the bills families must pay are ever-present, and providing the opportunity for people to pull themselves up in times of struggle is one of the core promises of America.

No comments:

Post a Comment