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Council releases report on human services workforce crisis

A new report from the Providers’ Council – Who Will Care? The Workforce Crisis in Human Services – projects the human service industry in Massachusetts that is already struggling to fill job vacancies will need to fill 24,000 to 25,000 in the coming decade to meet service demands.

Nearly 70 people, including legislators, state officials, legislative and executive branch staff, provider executives and others were on hand at the State House on Feb. 28 for the release of the report that was commissioned by the Council and conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute and UMass Dartmouth. It is available for download here.

Co-authors Christina Citino of the Donahue Institute and Michael Goodman of the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth presented their research, which demonstrates how an increasing demand for human services, a shrinking state workforce and low wages in the industry threaten the care of one in 10 Massachusetts residents who rely on human service providers.

“Even with older cohorts (of workers) staying in the labor force longer, we’re still projected to fall short” of the number of people who will be needed to fill open jobs in the human services sector, Citino said.

About a dozen representatives were on hand for the report release, including Reps. Jeffrey Roy, Kevin Honan, Paul Heroux, Paul Brodeur, Kay Khan, Jack Lewis, Natalie Higgins, Liz Malia and Paul Schmid.

According to the study, 72 percent of community-based nonprofit human service providers reported trouble filling job openings over the past three years and stated that state government and other sectors are siphoning off workers from private-sector human service providers because they provide better pay and benefits for similar jobs. More than seven in 10 human service providers (71 percent) surveyed cited state government as a source of competition for employees.

“This is not an industry in which we can expect automation to provide the labor we need, and we can’t outsource the work because the people who need the care are right here,” said Goodman. “We were struck by both the challenge and the opportunity.”

The report recommends a comprehensive set of solutions, including:

  • Legislation to eliminate the pay disparity between state and private, community-based human service workers;
  • Legislation creating a program to help these community human service workers repay educational loans;
  • The creation of human service career paths for millennials that emphasize flexibility, mission and workplace culture; and
  • Support for policies that allow immigrants to enter the community-based human services field.

“The question here is ‘Who Is Caring? It’s not impending; it’s at hand,” said panel moderator David Jordan, President and CEO of Seven Hills Foundation in Worcester and Chair of the Council’s Research Committee. “We are calling the issue today a crisis. We are asking … we are begging to engage in a realistic dialogue with our elected officials. We’re not asking for an open checkbook, but for a dialogue on how to fix this with the resources we have available in the commonwealth.”