The Massachusetts Workforce: Abundant Resources, Steep Challenges

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Priorities: Greater transparency, job matching, immigration reform


Massachusetts features a strong workforce training system with abundant resources yet faces challenges in matching jobs and applicants, training youth, and attracting sufficient numbers of skilled immigrants, according to a pair of studies from Pioneer Institute.

An Overview of the Massachusetts Workforce Training Infrastructure, authored by Pioneer’s Senior Fellow in Economic Opportunity, Eileen McAnneny, notes that retirements from the state’s aging workforce are not being sufficiently offset by growth in the numbers of younger workers. That makes workforce development a top priority “for business organizations, employers, lawmakers and workers alike.”

On the plus side, McAnneny reports that public investment in workforce training resources has never been greater, with an estimated $2.5 billion in available funding.

In At a Glance: The Massachusetts Labor Force in 2022, Pioneer’s Economic Research Associate, Aidan Enright, details the demographic headwinds — including declining numbers of workers, aging workers, and a fertility rate below the national average — that portend labor shortages in the Bay State in coming years.

With nearly 240,000 job openings in the state but only 100,000 unemployed workers, Enright’s paper recommends lawmakers:

  • Match training programs to available jobs by better identifying worker trainee and employer needs, adding flexibility to workforce development programs, and expanding vocational-technical schools by 5,000 seats.
  • Advocate for sensible immigration reform that increases the cap on H1-B visas and percentage allowed under country-of-origin caps for EB-2 visas — moves that would enable more highly educated and qualified immigrants to work and live here.

McAnneny’s report lists eight recommendations to provide for greater accountability, coordination, and effectiveness among existing workforce training programs and resources:

  • Create a workforce czar to provide centralized oversight, define success, and develop an updated strategic plan.
  • Improve data collection for real-time analysis and informed decisions that can help drive improved outcomes.
  • Reallocate resources among subgroups, including expanding the Workforce Training Fund and making it more flexible.
  • Launch a public information campaign so that employers and employees know about the state’s many workforce training resources.
  • Improve pipeline development by strengthening voc-tech schools, reforming immigration policy, and promoting wider use of MassHire and MassTalent databases.
  • Bolster career and college readiness programs including Learn to Earn, Early College, and the Biotech Apprentice Program.
  • Address the causes of workforce nonparticipation unrelated to training, including mental health issues, addiction, or a lack of housing, transportation, and/or child care.
  • Seek waivers from the federal government to develop and test new models of workforce development not encumbered by existing restrictions on federal dollars.