We need to bring everyone into the tent.
That’s how Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, summed up the findings of a state commission that studied the future of work, a panel on which he served. The general theme of the commission’s recommendations, released on Tuesday, revolve around figuring out ways to ensure as many people as possible share in the success of Massachusetts’ innovation economy.
For employers, it’s about finding the workers to fill tens of thousands of open jobs across the state. For individuals, it’s about acquiring the skills necessary to fill those jobs, particularly positions that offer career advancement opportunities, a living wage, and strong benefits.
The idea behind the commission predated the COVID-19 pandemic and the many changes it spurred in the state’s labor market. But the commission wasn’t actually created until early 2021, as part of an economic development bill largely designed to help the state emerge from the pandemic. The 17-member commission, led by Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Josh Cutler, met throughout the past year, and built off a similar report by consultancy McKinsey & Co. that was commissioned by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration about a year ago.
Here’s a few of the highlights:
Workforce training: The commission is pushing for more funds for certificate programs and other short-term training options, to help people “reskill” and prepare for new lines of work. This would include programs that help bring people with disabilities or those leaving incarceration into the workforce. The report also recommends more science and technology classes for younger students, as well as more IT training support for adults.
Transportation: Most office jobs at big employers will be hybrid or largely remote, for the foreseeable future. For that reason, the MBTA should offer more flexible fare options that aren’t tied to five days a week of commuting. State officials should extend passenger rail service to the South Coast or Western Massachusetts where housing is cheaper. The thinking: People might be more willing to settle down further from their office, if they don’t need to commute every day, and instead take “longer distance, lower frequency trips tied to specific purposes.”
Development: Along those lines, commission members want to see more housing built in older industrial cities, particularly those with rail access. Workers are spending more time in the communities where they live, so more attention should be paid to the downtowns and other “Main Street” districts across the state, in part by dedicating state planning or funds toward those areas. Also, the state should foster more regional industry clusters — from robotics to marine research — to create new tech jobs outside of Route 128.
Diversity and inclusion: Women need more support as they return to the workforce, particularly with child care costs and flexibility. State officials should provide incentives to maintain or improve college access for low-income students and students of color, as well as language training and accessibility for immigrants. Here’s another idea: Create a state program that specifically invests in startups owned and led by people of color to help address the funding gap they face and to spur interest among venture capital firms.
Lesser said he hopes to translate some of these recommendations into legislation by including them in broader packages dealing with the state budget, health care, transportation, and the economy that lawmakers plan to debate in the coming months and pass by the end of July.