A War that North Central Massachusetts Can Not Afford To Lose
A central theme of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce Regional Economic Development Plan—One North Central—prioritizes the importance of developing a strong talent pipeline and workforce development for the region. With our aging workforce and strong competition for younger, high-skilled talent, One North Central identifies strategies to help the region focus on strengthening the core of our workforce through advocacy, partnerships and resources to maintain the businesses who currently call North Central Massachusetts home while growing a strong pipeline to support new businesses locating to the region.
We call this the War for Talent. And it’s what is keeping our members up at night! Two of the most concerning challenges facing our members revolve around the talent pipeline and finding qualified workers. While we can place some blame on the pandemic, which provided the unemployed with supplemental federal unemployment benefits making going back to work less desirable, there are also challenges related to lack of affordable childcare and concerns about personal health and safety that have certainly kept some people out of the workforce.
For employers, the problem unfortunately runs deeper than the pandemic, and even as more people return to the workforce, the war for talent is expected to heat up in the years to come. It will not just be between companies, but regions, communities and even our state and country will be competing for the talent needed to help fuel economic growth and prosperity. It’s a war we must win by working collaboratively to address talent acquisition and growth while becoming more aggressive in our tactics to remain strong, viable communities for both families and businesses who live and work here.
Jeff Roberge, Executive Director of the MassHire North Central Workforce Board which is charged with helping employers develop the talent they need to grow and prosper, said this is not a regional issue, but a national one. “Businesses throughout the country are struggling to find the qualified workers they need. It’s all about the talent in today’s economic development world and how employers can competitively tap into that pipeline to bring qualified workers to their businesses.”
Our region is not immune to this issue, as a recent UMass Donahue Institute study commissioned by the Chamber indicated that by 2040, as many as 27% of residents in North Central Massachusetts may be over the age of 65, versus 12.5% in 2010. So, while baby boomers still represent a third of the workforce in the United States, there are simply not enough workers to fill their positions upon retirement.
Employers are also recognizing that some workers lack the skills or credentials they need to compete in today’s economy. According to the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University, there will be millions of unfilled jobs by 2025 if the “skills gap” issue between education and talent does not match available jobs. We also live in an environment where labor has become mobile and workers are no longer tied to a particular company, industry or even geography, and the popularity of remote work opportunities intensifies the competition. From the perspective of the region, workers can also pick up and move to other regions or states which in turn puts the region at a competitive disadvantage in attracting, growing and retaining businesses.
Rocheleau Tool and Die in Fitchburg has a long history spanning four generations of bringing highly productive and efficient blow molding machinery to its customers world-wide. As a local employer, the company is working to attract youth through engagements with local vocational high schools and universities to get today’s youth excited about employment opportunities with the company. In fact, Rocheleau Tool & Die employees serve on the UMass Lowell Plastics Advisory Board and the Monty Tech Machine Technology Advisory Committee.
“We realize by engaging with our future workforce in an educational setting, we can help define a path where students can envision opportunities to establish a successful career. When industry can share knowledge with educators, gains can be made in closing the skills gap. The better we cooperate, the better chance we can grow our businesses and create opportunities where our local youth can grow along with us,” said Steven Rocheleau, President, Rocheleau Tool & Die. “When educators and business owners are aligned, we both do our part to keep jobs and workers here in the region.”
The Chamber is committed to providing our members with the tools they need to combat the war for talent. We’ve always taken a leadership role by placing importance on education and workforce development to the quality of life and economic prosperity of the region. In recent years, we have expanded our advocacy efforts by joining coalitions such as the Massachusetts Business Coalition on Skills and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. We’ve also fostered partnerships with the region’s schools and higher education institutions while working diligently to grow the pipeline through our WorkNorthCentral.com online resource portal and WorkNorth Central Hiring events. While the chamber and our members are fighting the war for talent with eyes wide open to address these challenges, our advocacy, partnerships and resources are the ammunition to win the war.
Strong Advocacy: We believe the very foundation of our region’s talent pipeline is rooted in our strong educational system. We’ve been a longstanding advocate for an educational system that prepares our youth for success and for our state to excel in a competitive environment. Our advocacy efforts on Beacon Hill and at the city and town halls in our region aim to create career pathways in our schools, increase access to high-quality vocational education, and to implement other reforms to better align with what our businesses need while preparing the students for long-term success.
“We know the greatest asset for our region is the talent of our residents and what they bring to the industries where they work,” said Senator John Cronin (D-Lunenburg). “The Chamber is a strong advocate for improvements within our schools to create stronger college and career pathways for our youth and I am committed to standing alongside the Chamber as we work together in achieving these goals.”
Strong Partnerships: We believe strong partnerships are critically important and winning the war for talent will require a concerted effort from the public and private sector, education and business leaders, and through philanthropy and non-profits to work toward improving our schools and the talent pipeline. Since not one company, group or industry can do it alone, our efforts have included building partnerships with the Workforce Investment Board, Mount Wachusett Community College, Fitchburg State University and others, as well as partnering with local schools to host career exploration programs. We’re encouraging internships and other work-based opportunities for young adults with our members, and we have conducted research and shared our findings to keep all of our stakeholders updated on our efforts. As a way to make college more affordable for graduating seniors, we also distribute more than $50,000 each year in scholarships.
Strong Resources: We believe by providing resources to connect the unemployed and underemployed with jobs that we can respond to the immediate challenges employers face when finding qualified workers. Through creative resources to connect employers with job seekers, as well as with our existing portfolio of economic development tools, we can change the war for talent into the peace of a restful night’s sleep for business owners. Since we launched the WorkNorthCentral.com online jobs resource portal last year, more than 6,000 jobs have been posted, making it the largest, geographically-focused jobs board in the region! And, on September 28, we’re hosting a major, regional hiring event to provide face-to-face interactions for job seekers with potential employers, as well as opportunities for career coaching, free professional headshots, workshops and seminars, and more than 50 employers showcasing a variety of employment opportunities across multiple industries.
But this isn’t the end of our efforts. In fact, the war for talent is just beginning.
Together, we can continue to identify and work toward new and innovative solutions with a multi-pronged approach to address talent attraction, retention and development. We will continue to strengthen the core of our workforce through advocacy, partnerships and resources.
It’s a war the North Central Massachusetts region cannot afford to lose!