Senate president backs $20-$40m for training effort

Excerpt from speech to Boston Chamber

Even though the numbers tell us that the Massachusetts economy is growing faster than the national average, we still have a long way to go, and the recently revised jobs numbers confirm that we need to continue our focus on growing jobs. Preparing our workforce for the jobs of the future is critical to our recovery efforts and the Senate will focus on strengthening and reforming our workforce development efforts this legislative session.

An educated and trained workforce is essential to Massachusetts’ long-term economic success and this proposal will improve our community college system, provide new workforce training programs for our industries, better align our educational and economic strategies, and make the entire workforce development system better than it is today. Investing in our workforce is investing in our future.

Our community colleges do important and valuable work with the resources and tools they have at hand, but it’s important that we continue to expand opportunities for students and businesses in the Commonwealth.

As a first step, I propose the creation of a Statewide Coordination Office to help businesses access the workforce development services offered by their local community colleges. This office would host an online resource of available trainings at each college and take responsibility for promoting available trainings and programs to employers, and developing new trainings and programs based on the needs of the employers in each region.

This office would give the community colleges the support they need to coordinate similar workforce training offerings, bridge information gaps and connect with larger employers outside of their region. The Offices of Labor and Workforce Development and Housing and Economic Development and the Department of Higher Education have embraced this idea and moved forward with the limited resources at hand. This work is crucial to support our workforce development efforts and we will look to either build on the existing model or, based on the findings of the task force, continue this work in another form.

We have continued to hear from business leaders that one of the benefits private workforce training programs and occupational schools can offer is their ability to start new programming on a moment’s notice.

To address the quickly changing needs and demands of Massachusetts’ employers, a Rapid Response Program would provide an incentive fund to support the development of workforce training programs at community colleges that accurately reflects the current market.

This will give employers fast, predictable help from their community colleges and allow them to more cost-effectively meet their workforce needs. In addition, this program could help fund innovative programs to help businesses fill open positions, such as accelerated degree programs, online learning, and classes that fit the schedules of working adults.

We also need to help students understand what their best employment opportunities are and how they can improve their job prospects through higher education. Up until 2010, the Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Commonwealth Corporation published an annual study that identified the high-needs jobs in the state.

This information is necessary for our students to make informed choices about their futures and for our businesses to have a steady supply of workers to fill open positions. These findings will guide the Legislature in finding the best ways to help our students succeed and it’s important that we provide funding for this research to continue.

We must also do all we can to ease students’ transitions between the community colleges, state universities, and University of Massachusetts system. These are areas where degree auditing and other internet technology tools can help community colleges overcome any remaining hurdles to providing the best possible services to their students and the business community.

We will be taking these steps to benefit the community colleges and students in Massachusetts, but our businesses also need to do their part to support and work with their local community colleges. A great example of this collaboration is at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester County. Working with local businesses, health care companies, and hospitals in the region, QCC receives support and donated equipment for educational programs ranging from hotel and restaurant management, to health care and technology.

In addition, QCC offers their Emergency Medical Technician Program at Worcester Technical High School, allowing high school students to get the training needed to be a certified basic EMT. This effort is not only supported by the schools, but by local hospitals, health care providers, and ambulance companies. And hundreds of companies serve as clinical sites and internship partners and serve on the over 20 advisory boards to guide the local development of the academic and workforce development programs at QCC.

It’s important that we encourage and support the same level of collaboration that’s happening in Worcester County at all of our community colleges and businesses, both large and small.

With the recent and upcoming changes to the health care system in Massachusetts, it’s critical any workforce development legislation includes support for the health care industry to transition from the old health care jobs to the new jobs. To support these changes in the industry, this proposal would include a healthcare information technology pilot program to answer the need for retrained healthcare IT professional statewide.

In addition, a Payment Reform Workforce Transformation Fund would provide employees in the health care industry with job security and support during the transition to integrated care organizations and alternative payment methodologies – the new occupations in the health care industry.

It’s important that we also fund additional health care workforce development programs that are consistent with payment reform principles.

This proposal would expand loan forgiveness programs for primary care providers and mental health care providers, include additional funding through the Nursing and Allied Trust program, and support training programs at organizations such as community health centers and community hospitals.

This workforce development initiative will strengthen our workforce development system, encourage greater efficiency and statewide coordination within the community colleges, and invest in programs that train students for the high-needs jobs in Massachusetts. We are addressing the Commonwealth’s most pressing needs – putting more people back to work and growing our core industries in Massachusetts.

This proposal is a work in progress and I look forward hearing from Senators Michael Moore and Dan Wolf and the task force on their findings on community colleges and workforce development opportunities in Massachusetts.

What we do know is that many of these initiatives will require resources and I believe this is an investment worth making. By dedicating resources in the range of $20 to $40 million to these workforce development proposals, and others, in the community colleges and for the health care industry, we are making an investment in our future.

Having an educated, skilled workforce is one of our greatest strengths in Massachusetts and we must continue to build on our strengths. Over the next few weeks, we will explore many different options for financing this investment.

One option is making a draw from the state’s stabilization fund. In 2003, the Legislature passed and Governor Mitt Romney signed a $100 million bill funded in part by the Stabilization Fund. And, already this year, the balance in the fund is $1.58 billion, up over $200 million from the beginning of the year. That is because, in the first eight months of FY12, the state has deposited $202 million into the Stabilization fund from tax settlements and decisions.

Another option is using funds from the gaming facilities licenses. Both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and I supported dedicating a significant portion of any licensing fees for community colleges and health care and, although the money is not in hand right now, it could be available by this time next year.

Finally, I’d like to reiterate a challenge I posed three years ago during my remarks to this chamber of commerce about creating an environment in which more woman hold positions of leadership in our business institutions.

According to The Boston Club’s 2011 Census of Women Directors and Executive Officers, 41 of the top 100 largest public companies still had all-male boards of directors. There are still 29 companies out of the top 100 that have no women in either their boardrooms or their executive suites. And only six of these companies have female CEOs.

Meet the Author
These figures have not improved significantly over the past few years. It’s time for a change and I hope we can all make that commitment together.

Therese Murray of Plymouth is the president of the Massachusetts Senate.