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Walker, Osborne see potential for collaboration to fill jobs

With a potential shortage of human service workers looming on the near horizon, two directors who oversee state programs focused on putting people to work see the opportunity for collaboration.

Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker II and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) Commissioner Nicky Osborne listened intently as workforce data was reported during the Providers’ Council’s forum, “The Changing Face of Human Services,” on April 6. 

The research shows that jobs in the Health Care and Social Assistance Sector will have the highest growth rate through 2024, creating the need to fill tens of thousands of new positions.

“These statistics are really shocking,” said Osborne. “They’re not new, but to hear them in this way. We have 25,000 people at the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission. We need to come together and match the openings you have with the consumers we have.”

Walker touted the Commonwealth’s One-Stop Career Centers, recent $9.3 million in Workforce Skills Capital Grants made by the Baker Administration and several pilot programs for job training.

These investments “allow us to customize our approach for different sectors,” Walker said. “We need to look at working with our community-based providers” to get a clear picture of the jobs that need to be filled in order to develop the “right sized model to respond to the demand side.” 

Walker and Osborne were part of a panel of experts that addressed data and research presented during the forum by Christina Citino, a senior research manager from the UMass Donahue Institute, and Michael Goodman, the executive director of the Public Policy Center and associate professor at UMass Dartmouth. The panel also included Dr. Kathee Jordan, the Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer at Seven Hills Foundation; and Dafna Krouk-Gordon, the Founder and President of Toward Independent Living and Learning (TILL).

Krouk-Gordon spoke of the need to find ways to engage and retain members of the millennial generation.

“The number one thing they want from work is meaning, and we’ve got a lot of that,” she said.

Jordan addressed another group that could play an icreasingly significant role in the human service workforce: foreign-born individuals. Currently, more than 40 percent of Seven Hills Foundation’s employees are from other countries, and that influences the agency’s hiring and recruiting.

She also noted “We have to begin a serious dialogue around a $15 minimum wage,” she said. “Knowing already the hurdles and competition we have in recruiting staff, competition with McDonald’s is not what we want.”