When it started, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly became responsible for the rapid adoption of a new way of working.
Heaps of employees, dislodged from the regular buzz of their previous daily routines, have turned to remote work and new technologies.
And while the severity of the virus will likely recede this year, these workplace transformations aren’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon, experts say.
With that, state lawmakers have now taken it upon themselves to make sure Massachusetts gets it right — that these changes not only work well, but work for employers. and workers.
“The future of work…is not coming. It’s actually here,” Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, said during a State House hearing last Tuesday.
A new report compiled by the 17-member Legislature Committee on the Future of Work, released recently, looks at the implications of the sweeping changes and a wide variety of next steps on everything from workforce transformation- development to ensure equity.
Lesser, who co-chaired the commission, said the group was the first to work before COVID when even then there were “pretty deep questions” about how automation and other technologies could shake up the workforce and how work patterns could change as the 21st century continues.
“As we now hope to come out of COVID, this report was really about thinking about what the state needs to do to engage with our workforce,” said Lesser, who is also running for Lt. governor.
State Rep. Josh Cutler, the House committee’s co-chair, said the report will also help lawmakers “create a roadmap” for addressing the state’s labor shortages.
“We are, as many people know, in a time of labor shortages,” said Cutler, a Duxbury Democrat. “So it behooves us as policy makers to really look at creative ways to upgrade and retrain existing workers to make sure we meet those labor needs.”
The report follows a similar study released by Governor Charlie Baker last year.
Baker tapped consulting giant McKinsey and Company to dive into how COVID-19 could alter the state’s economy — and life itself in Massachusetts — over the next decade. .
This report, released in July, generally found that the Bay State was well positioned for a strong recovery from the pandemic financial crisis.
The workforce, however, is set to experience lasting change: As automation takes hold, hundreds of thousands of workers will need to find new ways to earn a living, according to Baker’s study.
Here’s what the latest report found:
The state must “transform” workforce development.
With the rise of technological change and automation, workers in the Bay State could see their own jobs evolve, phase out or be eliminated altogether – about 16% of all positions – in the future, according to the report.
To cope with these changes, there will be a great need for “retraining and upskilling workers”, according to a given industry.
The report states that “experienced workers in fields such as office support, retail, hospitality and food services may be displaced, necessitating transitions between occupations or industries at an unprecedented rate” .
Black and Latino workers, who make up much of the service and production industries most likely to see automation take hold, “will have the greatest need for job training.”
Lesser, who summarized the main findings of the report, put it bluntly: “The education and training of workers is going to have to transform, frankly, to ensure that workers are connected to the jobs of the future.
Lawmakers need to “significantly expand the existing workforce training infrastructure,” he said. Massachusetts needs to adopt a training system that gives workers “more stackable and iterative credentials” so workers can grow and develop their skills as technology evolves, he added.
“We need employers to be partners with their workforce in training, and we need to make sure the state encourages that,” Lesser said.
Other recommendations from the study include ensuring the state supports worker transitions into clean energy jobs, invests in diversity and equity initiatives, and expands benefits to people. older people who work.
“Childcare, childcare, childcare”: Childcare and other “worker-adjacent” issues have an important role to play.
As working parents probably already know, child care in Massachusetts doesn’t come cheap, that is, if it’s available.
In the Bay State, private home child care costs families about $5,000 more each year than the national average. For center care, families pay annually between $6,000 and $8,000 more than the national average.
What’s more, Massachusetts has “the seventh highest rate of income inequality” in the United States – and the report found that wage polarization will only get worse in the years to come.
“Childcare, childcare, childcare came back again and again and again (and) transportation again and again and again,” Lesser said of the commission’s work. “(Both) emerged as constant challenges for the workers.”
The commission’s report acknowledges that even before the ongoing pandemic, the state’s early learning and child care system was “deeply strained and over capacity.”
Child care centers closed for months due to the health crisis, and when they reopened, workforce challenges, health measures and capacity limits all created new hurdles for the industry.
“We need to close the child care access gap for working families,” Lesser said. “We need to increase salaries and training opportunities for child care workers.
The report also looks at other “adjacent work” issues, such as public transportation. More public transit services must be made available “to suit the commuting habits and needs of the worker,” the lawmakers wrote.
Along with this, it is recommended to use “existing housing development and zoning reform tools to increase housing options”.
With the demand for affordable housing, policymakers, particularly Lesser, have proposed that expanding public transit in western Massachusetts could help ease the state’s housing crisis, especially in areas of the east of the Commonwealth.
The so-called “east-west rail,” Lesser said, could help attract residents to western areas of the state where housing is generally cheaper, while connecting those communities to centers of job like Boston.
The promise of remote work has also moved workers away from physical offices, which some say could help people settle in cities and towns that have seen out-migration in recent decades.
With hybrid and remote work models ‘here to stay’, latest report advises state leaders ‘to invest in city centers and high streets to entice workers to settle in new areas’ .
Even with exciting potential for new possibilities, new work models also bring new challenges, officials wrote.
“Hybrid or remote options eliminate cumbersome travel but require greater flexibility for necessary infrastructure and resources such as child care, elder care and personal care,” the report says.
Legislators must “focus on equity and inclusion”.
In all efforts discussed by the commission, officials must emphasize embedding racial justice, equity and inclusion in everyone, Lesser said.
“It has to be part of every element of the policies,” he said.
The commission’s report found that inequalities for minority workers have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
“Furthermore, increased technology adoption and remote and hybrid working among many knowledge workers tend to grow in occupations in which white and male workers remain in or quickly re-enter employment,” the report said. . “Conversely, many frontline and service industry workers, who are disproportionately minority and low-income people, have been unable to find employment in sectors decimated by the crisis. economic impact of the pandemic such as restaurants, hospitality, child care, home health care and many others. others.”
Among their recommendations, the officials wrote that the state should “encourage entrepreneurship within the minority community and expect more inclusive policies in high-growth sectors like venture capital, life sciences and technology”.
“Minority individuals interested in entrepreneurship should have the resources and support necessary to succeed in the startup and small business space,” the report states. “Providing public funding directly and intentionally to minority entrepreneurs is an important way to ladder their path to success.”
Lawmakers also wrote about the need to provide more support for women to return to the workforce, provide more accessible language training for the immigrant workforce, and “strengthen gender equity.” education” for low-income students and students of color.
‘It’s not all gloomy’: Mass industries are ‘an incredible asset’ as new technologies emerge.
While Massachusetts has its fair share of challenges, there are plenty of silver linings, according to the report.
“Look, it’s not all gloomy,” Lesser told colleagues last week. “The results really confirm what I think we all know…Massachusetts is truly an amazing and special place.”
Many industries at the forefront of these changes, from robotics to biotechnology, are located in the Bay State – what Lesser called “an incredible asset.”
“Keeping that, maintaining our competitiveness, and making sure that all of our communities across the state really benefit from this engine of innovation is going to be very, very important,” he said.
Read the full report:
Future of Work Report by Christopher Gavin on Scribd
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