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Unusual alliance backs job training

A coalition of unlikely allies in business and labor is pushing the state to spend $5 million for a worker retraining program to help the unemployed find work and those with jobs to learn additional skills.

The Workforce Solutions Group, which includes the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and others, wants the money to go into the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, which trains people for specific jobs, such as machinists or airplane mechanics.

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“There’s been a big recognition that it’s easier to save the existing jobs in the state than create new ones,” said Steven A. Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

The workforce fund was created in 2006 to address a shortage of skilled workers and funded with $18 million in taxpayer dollars. Commonwealth Corporation, a quasi government organization, administers the fund, allocating money to businesses, community colleges and other institutions, and state workforce boards that help train workers for jobs that require increasingly specific high-tech skills.

Businesses are required to fund a 30 percent match.

Chris Kealey, deputy director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, a group representing business executives, said there are many small and medium-size employers in the state that do not have the resources to train a handful of workers, but when teamed up with similar businesses, could fill a classroom.

“What they’re trying to create is that talent pipeline of workers,” he said. “Access to talent is cited by employers as a critical reason for them to be here. . . .It’s a constant need to ensure we’re providing the talent employers need and matching skills with employer needs.”

The 2006 funding trained nearly 7,000 workers and about 5,500 of them “experienced a positive employment outcome,” either getting a job or a promotion, said Don Gillis, executive director of the Massachusetts Workforce Board Association. The trust also raised $16 million in private and philanthropic contributions.

The trust received another $5 million from the Legislature in its last session to underwrite similar worker-training efforts. Commonwealth Corporation is reviewing applications from various partnerships and is expected to award funding in April.

Gillis said such unified training efforts among businesses, educational institutions, and business is unusual.

“We don’t agree on every issue but these are strong working partnerships,” he said. “It’s a unique coalition.”

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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