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Education Could Hold Back Central Mass Labor Force

Friday, October 26, 2012


The region's future economic growth may hinge on whether workers can reach the levels of educational attainment employers require in the coming years, according to a report from the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The study, entitled "Labor Market Trends in the Central Mass Region," found that a substantial portion of the area's labor force, 27.1 percent, possesses only a High School Degree and 8.5 percent possess even less, presenting individuals with significant barriers to full employment.

In comparison, 23.5 percent of the statewide workforce has only a High School Degree and 26.3 percent of the national workforce possess no post-secondary education.

Changing Educational Landscape

"Looking forward, the region faces potential shortfalls in workers with certain educational levels demanded by employers, such as Associateís Degrees," noted Yolanda Kodrzycki, Vice President and Director of the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

"However, the large numbers of individuals with a High School Degree or less are a potential source to meet demand. Educating and training workers to fill such shortfalls will be important to support the regionís future vitality."

The growth in enrollment at two-year higher education institutions located within Central Mass provides evidence to support Kodrzycki's claim. Full-time enrollment was up 6.3 percent and part-time enrollment was up 3.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, far exceeding state and national increases.

Enrollment growth at the region's four-year institutions was 2.6 percent over the same period.

"Local colleges and universities in Central Massachusetts are actively engaged in partnering with local K-12 school districts in an effort to increase high school graduation rates and ensure all students are college and career ready," said Mark Bilotta, CEO for the Colleges of Worcester Consortium.

"Once enrolled in college, students are strongly encouraged to avail themselves to experiential learning opportunities that bring relevance to their studies and help develop some of the necessary soft skills required in today's job market."

Population Growth and Immigration

The other major factor in the evolution of the region's labor foce has been population growth. Increasing at an annual rate of 0.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, the Central Mass population has grown at more than double the statewide rate of 0.3 percent.

Out of that population growth, noted Bryan Engelhardt, an assistant professor of Economics at Holy Cross, roughly 75 percent is from immigrants, and the region's immigrant population growth rate is twice that of Massachusetts as a whole.

While the issues of educational attainment and immigration might seem unrelated at first glance, Engelhardt said the two are actually tied together.

"Immigrants have a tendency to be the lower-educated group," he said.

"It's not that they don't necessarily have bachelors degrees from Iraq, but when they immigate here it doesn't count."

Immigration can have a tendency to push down wages at the lower end of the educational distribution, but since vacancy rates have remained relatively stable in Central Mass during the past several years, increased immigration has not noticeably saturated the job market, and any negative effects on the labor market will only be for the short-run.

In the long-run, those immigrant populations, as well as the rest of the region's labor force, will need to make additional investments in human capital in the form of education, said Engelhardt.

"In terms of average income in Central Massachsuetts, it's critically important."

A Path Forward

"Given the increasing skill levels required in the Central Mass region, it is critical that we continue to focus on building education and career pathways for residents and workers that support them in advancing into middle and high skill jobs,î said Joanne F. Goldstein, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.

"This report highlights several areas of importance for us as a region that will impact our ability to grow our economy," noted Rosalie Lawless, Chair of the Central Massachusetts Workforce Board.

"As a local Workforce Investment Board, this report helps provide us a road map of the issues that need to be addressed including successful integration of new Americans and young adults into the workplace and the development of middle skills for our local labor force." 


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