Baker Takes On Skills Gap

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has assigned three of his top deputies to oversee an effort that would better align the state’s education and workforce training systems with the needs of employers. The decision underlines the skills gap as a remaining obstacle to real economic growth.

Baker signed an executive order formally establishing a “Workforce Skills Cabinet”, which will develop goals, objectives and metrics with the input of individuals, businesses, government agencies and community-based organizations and advocacy groups. The Cabinet will be responsible for implementing by region the various suggestions for improving vocational and educational opportunities within the state, reporting their progress back to the governor.

The Workforce Skills Cabinet will be chaired by Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ron Walker. Walker, a Democrat, was a cofounder of Next Street, a merchant bank that provides capital to entrepreneurs in urban areas. Baker said he anticipates that Walker will bring “the new, innovative approach he took in his role at Next Street” to his new position.

“I share the governor-elect’s emphasis on connecting education to work, his commitment to workforce development, and look forward to helping carry out his mission to make Massachusetts a great place to live and work in every region of the Commonwealth,” Walker said in a statement.

The inability to locate and hire skilled employees was by far the top concern expressed by Massachusetts employers last year.Over the coming months, Walker will be collaborating with Education Secretary Jim Peyser and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash to create an effective plan to address the disconnect between available jobs and skilled workers by the summer.

“More than anything, we need to make sure we find a way to link our workforce to job opportunities that exist out there for our citizens. These are inseparable goals and critical strengths for the commonwealth to continue to be successful over time,” Baker said at a press conference.

The skills issue crosses almost every industry, from manufacturers in the Blackstone Valley to software companies in Boston’s Innovation District to research and engineering firms on the North Shore. Recommendations will take into account the differing economic and demographic needs of each region.

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