‘Future of Work’ report highlights job training, housing needs

State report grapples with fallout from pandemic and longer-term trends

SOME 300,000 TO 400,000 people will need to transition to new jobs or industries in Massachusetts over the next decade, and the state will need to produce 200,000 new housing units during that time. Those are among the main findings of the state-commissioned Future of Work report, unveiled Tuesday morning by Gov. Charlie Baker. 

“Overall, the report concludes that the changing ways of working may shift what we think of as the center of gravity here in Massachusetts,” Baker said at Tufts Launchpad | BioLabs, a coworking and shared lab space in downtown Boston.  

The report, based on discussions and surveys with business leaders, community members, and experts and led by a 14-member advisory council, was commissioned earlier this year to evaluate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on work habits in Massachusetts. Its results will be leveraged to support the recovery of workers, businesses, and communities across the state.

The report says demand for office space is likely to fall as more people work from home, business travel will decline, the state’s population will continue to grow but at a slower rate than pre-pandemic, and existing equity issues will intensify. 

The report looks at short- and long-term goals for workforce development through 2030 and evaluates the implications of a changing work environment for different regions, industries, genders, and races.

A main focus of the report is the need for new and better training programs for workers to increase employability, fill jobs, and improve salaries. The report estimates 300,000 to 400,000 people will need to transition to new jobs or industries over the next decade, a process that will require extensive retraining. Baker said he plans to allocate $240 million in American Rescue Plan funds to workforce development and job-training. 

A workforce training fund program is awarding $8 million to a first round of 100 businesses to train and retrain workers with both technical and soft skills such as software mastery, project management, and leadership. The Tufts Launchpad location is receiving a $102,000 grant that will be used to train 27 workers and create 20 new jobs. 

“This grant will allow us to train our employees with a tailored curriculum that includes management skills, teamworking, important lessons in leadership, and will, overall, result in higher productivity for us,” said BioLabs CEO Johannes Fruehauf.

Baker also highlighted a need for more affordable housing, pointing to findings that the Commonwealth will need to produce up to 200,000 new housing units by 2030. He said a hybrid work environment that is likely to outlast the pandemic has also made flexible childcare and public transportation options a priority for the administration.

Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta emphasized the importance of equity in developing plans to address these findings. She pointed to pandemic unemployment rates that were higher among Hispanic and Black workers than their white counterparts. Even before the pandemic, she said, women, Black, and Latino workers were more likely to be displaced from jobs due to automation and once COVID-19 hit, the same populations had the lowest access to remote work. 

“We know we need to build a more equitable workforce,” said Acosta. “We know we need to fill the skill gaps in critical areas of the Commonwealth in order to maintain our future economic success. And now we have a generational opportunity to do so through federal resources which are immediately available to us.”

The report raises concerns that high housing prices will push renters out of the communities they currently live in. Baker said that providing down payment assistance could improve opportunities for lower-income residents to purchase their homes and protect existing residents from being displaced by an increasingly costly housing market.

To address shifts in commuter rail ridership, the report says, the MBTA and MassDOT are modifying regional rail schedules to provide regular service throughout the day, rather than prioritizing morning and evening rushes. Changes have also been made to increase access to Gateway Cities and to accommodate three-day-per-week and weekend commuters. 

Baker plans to allocate $2.9 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding to address the findings of the report, with $1 billion going to housing priorities that focus on increasing homeownership opportunities in communities of color. Local communities will receive $350 million to help redevelop downtowns to maximize economic growth and $175 million will bolster programs for substance use and behavioral health treatment, issues that communities of color struggled disproportionately during the pandemic, according to the report.

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Baker said that hearings for certain initiatives could be underway by the end of the month and that worker training would begin “as soon as possible.” However, many action items, such as improvements to environmental infrastructure and housing initiatives, require extensive planning and are seen as long-term goals. 

“Massachusetts is well-positioned as we emerge from the pandemic and look to promote economic growth,” said Baker. “The Future of Work Report provides us with a roadmap to build on our strengths and address areas that remain challenges.”