Baker Administration Cabinet secretaries look to replicate job training model

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(Caption: John S. LaFrancis, professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Springfield Technical Community College, discusses precision manufacturing with Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Education Secretary James Peyser.) Photo by Colleen Quinn.

It is nearly impossible to talk about manufacturing without the topic very quickly turning to workforce development, and the difficulty manufacturers have finding skilled workers.

A group of manufacturers in the Pioneer Valley this week described to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and three Baker administration Cabinet secretaries who are focused on workforce development, the problems they face attracting, recruiting and training competent workers.

Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker, II, Education Secretary James Peyser, and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash toured the Smith & Wesson Technology Applications Center to learn how business leaders, regional employment board officials and educators are working together to create a talent pool for local manufacturers. They are boosting employment, and growing their companies.

Facing an aging workforce, manufacturers said they realized they need to create their own pipeline of skilled workers. Nationally, half of the workforce in manufacturing is 55-years-old or older, and 38 percent of those workers say they plan to retire in the next 10 years.

Millennial-generation workers have shied away from the manufacturing industry because of outdated misconceptions that manufacturing jobs are dirty and dingy, company owners said. Advanced manufacturing in the aerospace, defense, and biotechnology industries are booming in the region.

Many large companies no longer offer apprenticeship and internship programs that were once the source for talented workers.

Lt. Gov. Polito said manufacturers, educators and workforce officials in western Massachusetts are “connecting the dots.” Steve Grande, president of Meridian Industrial Group Inc. – a precision machining company – said local manufacturers realized they could not grow if they did not find an innovative way to fill jobs.

Educators and regional workforce boards started by asking local employers what skills they want graduates to have to fill the needs of their business today and in the future. With the help of state grants, they then developed technical training curriculum at the Smith & Wesson Technology Applications Center at the Springfield Technology Park.

“Gov. Baker often reminds us, when you find something that’s working, do a whole lot more of it,” Lt. Gov. Polito said.

Baker administration officials toured the training center to see if the model could be replicated around the state. Since February, Secretaries Walker, Peyser and Ash have worked together on the Workforce Skills Cabinet to find ways to bridge the gap between companies looking for skilled workers and people who need a job.

Secretary Ash said the Baker administration is identifying ways to have an impact on job creation and workforce development around the state.

Secretary Walker said the collaboration between manufacturers, educators and the regional employment board is the type of demand-driven model the Workforce Skills Cabinet hopes to replicate statewide.

Secretary Peyser asked if there was a “secret sauce” to the success in the Pioneer Valley.

David Cruise, president and CEO of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, said the key for them was to stay focused on the end goal.

“The bottom line is job creation and economic development,” Cruise said during a roundtable discussion with Lt. Gov. Polito and the three Cabinet secretaries. “And it’s getting folks that are not in the labor market with the skills they need to get working, to earn a living wage, buy a home, send their kids to school, be good citizens; do the things we need to build-out the middle class.”

- Colleen Quinn, Communications Director, Labor & Workforce Development