The commission of Mass. says worker training and childcare are key to a fair economic recovery

From the lack of affordable housing to the cost of childcare, a legislative commission tasked with examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the economy has identified key barriers with ancient roots that it says need to be addressed in Massachusetts to help people grow in the jobs of the future.

The new report, produced by the Commission on the Future of Work, goes beyond what it will take to match employers with properly trained workers to also look at the kinds of supports workers will need to help them succeed in these jobs.

Massachusetts will need to adapt its workforce training, public transportation fares and schedules, and childcare systems to better support workers in a post-COVID-19 economy, the commission recommended Tuesday. . The report also warned that regional and racial disparities in income would also widen without intervention, as white-collar professions move more easily to hybrid and remote work models, while service and manufacturing jobs offer less. of flexibility.

“The future of work isn’t what it used to be,” joked Rep. Josh Cutler, who co-chaired the commission with Sen. Eric Lesser.

The 53-page report is the culmination of nearly a year of work and concluded that hybrid and remote working models are “here to stay”, bringing with them changes in demand for office space and of accommodation.

Workers, the commission said, will need more flexible supports to succeed, including affordable child and elder care options, housing, schedules and transit fares that reflect new modes of transport. State-funded workforce training should also be less rigid, the report concludes, and the state should promote “stackable certifications” that would allow workers continuous access to vocational training without having to to commit to a two- or four-year college program.

The results, in many ways, reflect some of the challenges that have already been identified by policymakers as obstacles to a post-pandemic economic recovery for all residents. Gov. Charlie Baker previously commissioned a ‘Future of Work’ report from McKinsey and Co. that identified a lack of housing and childcare options as a barrier to recovery, and predicted shifting jobs away from centers traditional urban areas around which transit and business have developed.

“We are obviously in a period of profound change,” Lesser said during a hearing Tuesday when the commission finalized and voted to table its report with the Legislative Assembly.

While the report did not identify many concrete steps the Legislature should take to address its findings, Lesser noted that the Legislative Assembly in the coming months will consider health care funding bills. long-term health, economic development and transportation where money could be prioritized for needs. identified by the committee.

“The timing couldn’t be better given the multiple vehicles of funding and policy that we will wrestle with in the Legislative Assembly,” added Sen. Adam Hinds, another committee member who, like Lesser, is candidate for the post of lieutenant. governor.

In addition to higher wages for child care workers, lawmakers and other commission members recommend prioritizing state funding to subsidize early education for working families so they can fully participate in the labor market and have time to learn new skills for future employment opportunities.

Commissioners also urged careful regulation of automated hiring and recruiting tools that they say can lead to employment discrimination, and ensuring workers have access to mental health support.

The report says that during the commission’s work, which began in the spring of 2021, commissioners expanded the scope of the study from the intersection of new technologies and works to include a review of supports such as public transport models, lifelong learning models, child and elderly care, housing accessibility, etc.

“It’s so refreshing to hear that we’re not just talking about placement rates,” said Miriam Ortiz, director of education and training at Just-A-Start Corporation.

Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said coordination with academic institutions will be key to meeting employers’ needs.

“It’s just as important to keep them in that job, and that retention piece is probably the hardest part,” Acosta said.

Lesser said new technologies and other rapid workplace changes are expected to displace 300,000 to 400,000 workers in Massachusetts who will need to re-skill for careers in growing industries like robotics, life sciences and biotechnology.

The Baker administration and the commission agree that the state will need to ramp up its workforce training initiatives to prepare 30,000 to 40,000 workers a year for new jobs, double the current rate.

“We’re probably already late,” Lesser said.

Acosta and other commission members said part of the challenge will be getting employers to actively participate in re-skilling the workforce and winning over workers in changing sectors like the service industry. that careers in the life sciences are not out of reach.

Other commission members noted the important role that public universities and community colleges can play in not only producing qualified graduates, but in properly training them for careers in growing fields through degree programs. .

The report follows another study by the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission that identified up to $1.5 billion in investments needed to increase the salaries of early childhood educators and make the system childcare more affordable and accessible to families.

Senate Speaker Karen Spilka said last week in a joint interview with House Speaker Ron Mariano that she would like to begin addressing the state’s child care needs this session, and Mariano suggested the House could start with some of the less costly improvements in its version of the annual state budget due next month.

Governor Charlie Baker also told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last week that he intends to introduce an economic development bill shortly that will include a request for additional federal funding to help cities and villages to adapt their town centers to changing working and commuting habits.

Baker said the Legislature approved some, but not all, of his requests for funding to promote housing development and home ownership in the American Rescue Plan Act spending bill. last year, but had not authorized any of its requested expenses for downtown redevelopment.

A point recommended by the Future of Work Commission has already been adopted by the MBTA.

The panel embraced the idea of ​​flexible, discounted commuter rail passes that will allow commuters who travel less often to the office to maximize their travel budget.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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