You can help today to prepare residents for the jobs of tomorrow

On October 12, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

We’re halfway through this season’s ResiStat meetings, where in addition to neighborhood updates, we’ve also been discussing the City’s progress toward our community’s SomerVision goals around public open space, housing, transportation, development, and job creation.  Each of these goals are intertwined and all are important. But today I want to take a closer look at our ambitious job creation goal and all that comes along with making this goal a reality.

Our 20-year comprehensive SomerVision plan calls for 30,000 new jobs to be created in Somerville by 2030, and we’ve been making progress. Since 2011, just before the SomerVision plan was officially adopted in 2012, we’ve added 6,273 jobs in Somerville (20.9 percent of the total goal). When taking into consideration estimated new development and growth, we are on track to produce a total of 31,051 new jobs by 2030, which exceeds the SomerVision goal. It’s estimated that these new jobs will provide opportunities to workers at all skill levels across a range of different sectors from computer and mathematical fields to office and administrative support, service and culinary, and social sciences, arts, and media.

But while our current progress toward job creation is solid, we know it takes more than simply creating new jobs to provide residents with true opportunity. We must also make sure we’re giving you the tools necessary to seize those opportunities, and we need to understand the current challenges facing the city’s jobseekers.

The City’s unemployment rate of 2.4 percent remains below the national and regional average, but we must keep in mind that behind that statistic are individual people – our friends, family members, or neighbors – each who are facing the stresses of being out of work. Meanwhile, the unemployment numbers fail to capture other issues facing our workforce. Underemployment and wage suppression continues to be a problem for some of our residents as well.

The City’s workforce development strategies aim to examine, analyze, and address these issues and set Somerville workers up for success by connecting residents to current jobs, supporting the city’s most vulnerable job seekers, and preparing residents for the next generation of jobs. We already have robust resources like Somerville High School’s own fabrication laboratory and valuable partnerships like those with Somerville Community Corporation, Bunker Hill Community College, the Metro North Regional Employment Board, and the Northeast Advanced Manufacturing Consortium in play helping us to do just that. However, with workforce development resources set to increase thanks to jobs linkage payments, we want to take our efforts a step further by creating a first-of-its-kind municipal workforce development strategic plan.

The Workforce Development Strategic Plan will allow us to think locally about how a city like Somerville that’s part of a larger metro region can really take responsibility and ownership for its workforce, attract more resources, and create sustainable, effective, and resilient workforce training delivery systems. Like many of the City’s other planning processes, you – our residents – will play an integral role in the plan’s development.

As I mentioned earlier, we must have a grasp on the challenges facing our city’s jobseekers before we can thoughtfully create a plan to address those challenges. We need to know the specific barriers to employment facing our residents. We know for example that of those who are unemployed, 36.9 percent have achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 57.3 percent of the overall population). But we also need to know are the greatest challenges job training and education, language barriers, the need to build broader professional networks, or the mix of jobs available? Are we creating the right kind of jobs for our workforce? There are many questions to answer.

That’s why the work around data collecting for the strategic plan is already underway. Our consultants from Mt. Auburn Associates and Futureworks have been reaching out to stakeholders to conduct interviews. To learn more about residents’ career goals and increase awareness around the varying businesses and skill-building programs throughout Somerville, the City’s Economic Development Department recently launched the Villens at Work Scavenger Hunt, which will run until December 1. And soon, we will call upon the community to apply for positions on a new Workforce Development Steering Committee, alongside area experts, to help guide the planning process.

We are still in the early stages of creating our local Workforce Development Strategic Plan, and there are still a lot of unknowns at this point. But we do know it’s essential to make sure Somerville residents are prepared to take advantage of opportunities presented to them in the wake of all the development and growth that the City anticipates. That’s why we’re committed to working with you now to prepare Somerville workers for the jobs of tomorrow.


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