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Baker administration offers $50 million to help companies tackle labor shortage

The program would offer $4,000 per new hire in training or hiring bonuses.

The Commonwealth's fast-growing life science industry has been one of several key sectors struggling to hire workers right now. Baker administration officials visited Lab Central in Cambridge to announce a new state program offering companies $4,000 per employee to fund training or hiring bonuses for new hires.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Employers that want to use signing bonuses to give them an edge in the fight for talent can turn to an unexpected ally for help: the Baker administration.

Governor Charlie Baker unveiled a new program, called HireNow, on Wednesday that will set aside $50 million in federal funds to help employers offer training, hiring bonuses, or both, to new employees. They could receive up to $4,000 per new worker.

To be eligible, an employer would need to show that a newly hired person stayed with the company for 60 days. The new hires must be made after March 23, live and work in Massachusetts, and be placed in jobs that are at least 30 hours a week. Also to count, the workers can’t earn more than $42.50 an hour (roughly $85,000 on an annual basis).


Employers would be capped at $400,000 in total, or funds for up to 100 new hires. The grants, which come from the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding, would be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Baker joined Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and labor and workforce development secretary Rosalin Acosta, who would oversee the program, at the LabCentral biotech incubator in Cambridge on Wednesday.

Polito said the main goals of this new program are broadening the talent pool for employers eager to fill jobs to include nontraditional candidates, and making money available for skills classes to nonprofit employers such as hospitals and universities that don’t participate in the state’s primary workforce training fund program. The administration is also trying to help companies staff up quickly, as opposed to the state’s other workforce training and apprenticeship programs, which typically take longer to be completed.

“We need to expand our talent pool in order to meet the needs of current employers,” Polito said in an interview. “The challenge that employers that we’re hearing from … is that they need to fill jobs now, today.”


In particular, Polito cited the need to fill entry level jobs at healthcare and office employers, as well as assembly and warehouse jobs at manufacturers. She cited Beth Israel Deaconess as an example of the former, and Waters Corp. as an example of the latter. State officials said unfilled job openings in Massachusetts are up by more than 20 percent compared with pre-pandemic levels, and there are about 200,000 open jobs available across the state.

“People who are not engaged in work for whatever reason or who might not see themselves in some of these industries, the HireNow program says, ‘We want you, we need you, no skills required,’” Polito said.

The fast-growing biotech sector is one place where jobs are opening faster than employers can fill them. That’s one reason why LabCentral was picked as a place to announce the program.

“Particularly in biotech, there’s a current reckoning that’s happening within the industry, and an understanding of the need to reevaluate baseline requirements for certain kinds of jobs,” said Krista Licata, managing director of the LabCentral Ignite initiative.

For example, many companies are reconsidering whether they need to require a bachelor’s degree, or a year of lab experience, for new hires. Instead, Licata said, they’re realizing that skills transferable from other industries — the attention to detail proven while working behind a Starbucks counter, for example — are perhaps more important, and that they can get talented people up to speed with the skills they need with two months or so of training. LabCentral Ignite offers this type of training, particularly geared for diversifying the industry, Licata said, though she thinks companies might be more tempted to use the money for signing bonuses instead.


“The talent pool is tight enough that it is likely some will go with the option of doing signing bonuses, to win a multiple offer situation,” Licata said. “It’s my hope and desire that companies think about how they can use it for training creatively.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.