To begin the process of bridging the skills gap and regional shortages, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an Executive Order in 2015 establishing the Workforce Skills Cabinet (WSC). The Secretaries for Education, Labor and Workforce Development, and Housing and Economic Development were tapped by the Governor to chair the WSC and further capitalize on policies to improve economic and job training opportunities in the state.
The goal of the Cabinet is to coordinate with businesses, government agencies, community-based organizations and other stakeholders to recommend and ultimately implement strategies to better align policies, educational programs, and resources at the state level. The Cabinet’s key public policy initiatives include:
- Governor’s BizWorks Team: The WSC created a team of executive-level staff across the three Secretariats to provide a coordinated point of contact and communication to stakeholders across the state.
- State Grants, Planning and Performance: The WSC launched a regional planning process to coordinate education, workforce and economic development, focusing on regional strengths, business needs, and support for programs that are working to address the skills gap.
- Career and Technical Education (CTE) Initiative: The Cabinet is also working to significantly expand access to high-quality Career Technical Education programs in STEM fields, with a focus on underserved populations and communities.
Aligning resources to efficiently meet common goals, the WSC consolidated two separate capital grant programs – the Manufacturing Training Equipment grants and the Vocational Opportunity Challenge grants – into one unified program. The goal of this program, the Skills Capital Grants Program, is to update capital equipment in schools and institutions, expand the capacity and quality of the state’s CTE system, and launch new programs at institutions while creating more high-quality career pathways. Grants are awarded competitively to institutions that demonstrate partnerships with industry and align curriculum with local business needs. The most recent iteration of the Skills Capital Grants focused on closing equity gaps, providing funds to educational institutions that are helping residents who are unemployed, lack English proficiency, or those who need new skills to obtain high-paying jobs.
The WSC also launched a regional planning initiative in 2017 that convened teams of educators, workforce, and economic development professionals to create a statewide blueprint for growth strategies in every region of the Commonwealth. Seven regional teams were created to use local labor market data to identify industries and occupations that are growing in their regions, and develop action steps to address gaps in talent and skills for those jobs. Each region also developed a regional labor market blueprint to identify workforce priorities and opportunities, guide state funding and maximize the funds’ impact. The blueprints have been used by the WSC and regional teams to identify priority industries and occupations, map existing regional resources and gaps, and highlight cross-sector strategies to develop workforce development priorities.
Policy in Action
High demand for career training programs in the state has fueled the expansion of the Skills Capital Grant Program. In 2015, Massachusetts invested $4.1 million in vocational technical training equipment. The following year, that amount tripled to $12.8 million and increased to $36 million the year after. At the onset of 2019, more than $52 million had been awarded to dozens of institutions during the WSC’s first three years in effect. The state’s 2018 Economic Development Bill provided an additional $75 million in future funding for Skills Capital Grants. The grants have been awarded to over 188 institutional programs, expanding their enrollment capacity and adding more than 10,000 additional students in educational programs across Massachusetts.
The WSC also launched Apprenti Massachusetts in November 2018, the first technology focused registered apprenticeship program in the state. The program is working with the tech industry to identify high demand employment categories that can be filled by candidates with diverse educational backgrounds. Technology-based companies including Amazon, Wayfair and others have also collaborated with the WSC to expand their presence and employment pipelines in Massachusetts.