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Since employers are struggling to find skilled labor, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce this year published a study focusing on workforce growth barriers, especially those related to geography, skills, and work-life balance. In commissioning the study, we were particularly interested in identifying potential solutions to help with the labor challenges.
Throughout the process, we realized North Central Massachusetts is not unique in these workforce issues, as the commonwealth is facing a major labor crisis throughout its cities and towns. While we can debate the issues at hand, the truth is there simply are not enough people to fill available jobs. If not resolved, this issue is only projected to worsen and threaten our state’s ability to grow and compete. Our study proved many workers are willing to work, but the barriers they face can limit a person’s ability to obtain a job, including where they live, what skills they have, spoken (and unspoken) rules and regulations, and even the structure of public benefits.
From a lack of affordable housing adjacent to jobs and transportation options, to skills no longer aligning with regional industries and overly aggressive online applicant filters, the challenges facing today’s workforce are unique to those of years past. The solution is to draw potential workers, who may have left the workforce or are not fully participating in the workforce, back into the job market as well as to attract and retain the future workers businesses will need to thrive and expand. Simply put, we need to make it easier for people to work.
We encourage policymakers to consider the strategies identified in the study to help pull hidden as well as future workers into the labor force, including additional and better childcare choices, implementation of new worker transit, the creation of innovative training and credentialing programs, and fostering relationships with local community colleges, businesses, and even our prison system. We must eliminate barriers, encourage partnerships, and promote stronger pathways for individuals into the labor market.
Here in North Central Massachusetts, we are in a unique situation because the collaboration among businesses, educators, and other key stakeholders is already strong. For long-term change to occur, all stakeholders need to be at the same table: the chamber, transportation, K-12, higher education, businesses, legislators, workforce development leaders, and workers.
It is my hope by commissioning this study we will have a shared roadmap to overcome the challenges and set forth a bright future for employers and workers alike in the region and throughout the commonwealth.
Roy M. Nascimento is president and CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. To read the North Central Workforce study, please visit www.northcentralmass.com.
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