DORA CAMARA was a stitcher and presser at a manufacturing company in Fall River that made men's suits. In 1999 the company closed the plant's doors, and Camara had to recreate herself. She says losing her job was devastating, but she enrolled in a six-month training course on computers, and now she's an event planner for the AFL-CIO, organizing major conferences for 780 affiliate unions. Without the training program, she doesn't know what she would have done.
Camara is an example of the power of workforce development. And she's lucky, because there's a shortage of workforce programs.
In the second quarter of 2004 there were 60,000 job vacancies and 177,000 unemployed people in Massachusetts, according to state workforce development officials. This seems like a simple math problem with an easy solution: Send 60,000 of the unemployed to fill the 60,000 open jobs. But many displaced workers simply don't have the skills or experience that employers are seeking. First-time job seekers and immigrants can face similar struggles. In 2000, a report by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, or MassINC, concluded that 1.1 million workers lacked the skills to fill a job in the new economy.
The state needs a plan for turning last century's clock-punchers into high-tech workers. That means more spots in classrooms where adults can master the basics: English, math, reading, and earning a high school equivalency degree. Computer training is essential. So is targeted training in strong industries like healthcare, which thrives in Boston; aerospace, an industry on the North Shore; and information technology, part of the economy in Western Massachusetts.
Some Bay State leaders suffer from North Carolina envy. The Tarheel State doesn't have much of a nickname, but North Carolina does have warmer weather, cheaper housing, golf -- and sound workforce investments. Earlier this month, North Carolina broke ground on a new biomanufacturing training center, a 91,000-square-foot facility that will simulate a biopharmaceuticals manufacturing plant.
Massachusetts has to keep up. One sound blueprint is the Workforce Solutions Act of 2005, filed by Representative Lida Harkins, a Needham Democrat, and Senator Thomas McGee, a Democrat from Lynn. The bill would put more training in place and would set up an advisory committee that could untangle and streamline the existing mix of workforce programs. Some $250 million in federal and state money is already being spent across 12 Massachusetts agencies.
To serve the public, fuel progress, and generate more tax revenues, states have to build ladders that lead to the high-skill jobs in the hottest parts of the economy.