Event Recap: Forum Offers Latest Information about Training and Demand for Substance Use and Addictions Workforce in Massachusetts

Nearly 100 workforce development professionals, educators, and substance use and addictions recovery providers from across the state gathered on June 13, 2018 at Worcester State University to learn about the substance use disorder (SUD) workforce. Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Rosalin Acosta, welcomed participants and encouraged them to strengthen relationships while increasing their collective knowledge of SUD jobs, career paths and strategies for supporting and growing this critical workforce.

The full day program included presentations, a panel discussion and opportunities for networking and focused discussion among professionals from similar regions in the state. Here are some highlights:

  • Jen Parks from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Addiction Services shared a brief history of the evolution of SUD services and snapshot of the current service delivery model. Click here to view her powerpoint presentation.
  • Pat Emsellem, Chief Operating Officer of SSTAR in Fall River, provided an employer’s perspective on the qualities that are critical in the SUD workplace and shared strategies that her agency has put in place to support and retain staff. Click here to view the SSTAR powerpoint presentation. Click on the following links for video clips that were embedded in the presentation: Cleveland Clinic ClipVarieties of Lived Experience; Overcoming Fears, Financial and Time Challenges; and Workforce Development Strengthens Families.
  • Panelists representing the Career Centers (JVS CareerSolution), the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), and North Shore Community College shared their experience with recruiting and coaching adults interested in pursuing training and employment in this growing field. The final panelist, an employee from PIER Recovery Center of Cape Cod, shared how his personal experience with addiction led him into this field where he now works as a director of two recovery support centers. Click here to view the powerpoint presentations used during the panel discussion.
  • Throughout the day, audience members were seated at tables with colleagues from their geographic region which provided the opportunity for networking. A lunch time facilitated discussion allowed each group to identify strategic approaches to developing stronger partnerships within their region.


For copies of the handouts provided at the Forum and the Careers of Substance resource website, see links below:

Careers of Substance Website
Addiction Education Provider Listing
Career Center Listing
DPH Recovery Coach Information Handout
MRC Job Placement Specialist Listing


Exploring New Models for Recruitment and Retention in a Tight Labor Market

On Monday, May 21st Commonwealth Corporation and JobsFirstNYC co-hosted a webinar on Employer Solutions to Recruitment & Retention Challenges in a Tight Labor Market.  Nearly 100 participants from Massachusetts, New York and other states joined us for a rich conversation.

The webinar began with a presentation on research that JobsFirstNYC had conducted on the impact of online applications and embedded personality assessments in screening out individuals who are likely good candidates for positions.  Their research illuminated several alternatives to online pre-hire assessments that are being used successfully by large retail and food service businesses.

We then learned about three really interesting and different models designed to help businesses be successful in hiring and retaining workers, and workers be successful in managing work and life responsibilities.

  • Aaron Bence from the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston explained the inclusive hiring approach that they have used over the past 35 years at their food manufacturing facility in Yonkers. The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston is officially launching on June 12th and will seek to share the lessons and practices they have developed to help other businesses think differently about their hiring practices and consider adopting inclusive hiring approaches. Click here for the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston powerpoint presentation.
  • Marie Downey from BEST Hospitality Training explained how strong partnerships with employers in the Boston hospitality industry have informed all aspects of their training and education programming–from screening criteria for participants, to curriculum development and even some components of training delivery. A few of the newest features to their program are implementing a U.S. Department of Labor registered pre-apprenticeship program and an articulation agreement with Bunker Hill Community College to offer college credit for some of BEST’s training. Click here for the BEST Hospitality Training powerpoint presentation.
  • Jordan Runge from Managed by Q, an office support company, was inspired by Zeynep Ton’s book, The Good Jobs Strategy. Jordan shared how high turnover rates among their cleaning services workers led them to research the reasons behind involuntary turnover among employees within the first three months of employment. They developed a pilot program which involves a navigator whose focus is supporting workers in a number of ways to remove the obstacles that may prevent them from showing up to work. Click here for the Managed by Q powerpoint presentation.

The webinar wrapped up with a Q&A facilitated by Marie Davis from the 100K Opportunities Initiative.  This allowed webinar participants to follow-up with questions about each of the models.

Click here for the full webinar recording on YouTube.  While the entire webinar is worth watching and listening to, below are the approximate time breaks by presenter if you are looking to listen to just part of the session.

00:00-14:00 Introduction, summary of tight labor market conditions, JobsFirstNYC research

14:01-23:40 Aaron Bence, Center for Open Hiring at Greyston

23:45-38:55 Marie Downey, BEST Hospitality Training

39:00-52:10 Jordan Runge, Managed by Q

52:20-1:24:15 Q&A with Marie Davis, 100K Opportunities Initiative

HCC Culinary Training Program Preps Workers for Jobs with WCTF Funds

The bustling atmosphere at Food 101 Bistro in South Hadley had all the signs of a busy Friday night: a full house, waiters covering several tables at once, delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. But this particular occasion was not a Friday night. In fact, it was a graduation ceremony, the culmination of a 9-week training program where program participants learned all the ins and outs of the restaurant business, and that day their skills were on display. 

Carl was seated at the table next to mine. He was attending the graduation to support some family members, and he himself had graduated from the same program nearly a year before. Between one of the four gourmet courses served, he shared some of his story with me.

A veteran, Carl had enjoyed culinary arts dating back to his time in high school. When he returned from service, he was looking for a job and the opportunity to refresh some of his high school skills. He found his solution in the Holyoke Community College Culinary Training Program funded by the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund.

Several of the skills were familiar to Carl, but he also received training in a variety of areas that were new and essential to understand the food and hospitality industry including food and wine pairing, conflict resolution, ServSafe, OSHA 10, TIPS, and more.

In addition to the significant amount of training and certifications, participants had the opportunity to work directly with Chef Alan, owner of Food 101 Bistro and their lead instructor. “When people start the program, no one really knows what they want to do,” the chef told me, “but throughout the program they get the feel and the energy of a real restaurant.” They receive training in both the “back of the house” or kitchen, and the front of the house which requires customer-service.

When they’re not training at Food 101 Bistro, they’re putting in the rest of their 20 hours a week at a brand-new facility in Holyoke funded through a partnership with MGM and Holyoke Community College. The HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute boasts brand new equipment, kitchens with enormous ovens, stoves, and everything you would find in a restaurant, in addition to classrooms, computer labs, and individual study spaces.

Carl was part of the first cohort of participants that got to learn in the training facility. In addition to culinary skills, participants work on math and reading, and learn how to price a menu. They finish the program with every skill they need to be successful in a restaurant.

Since completing the program back in the fall of 2017 and re-entering the workforce, Carl has enrolled in Holyoke Community College and is on his way to earning his associates degree in Food Service Management. He is currently working as a chef in a restaurant and also signed on to work as a culinary arts lab tech and instructor with HCC. He taught classes to men and women in custody at Hampden County Jail that provided them with skills they can apply to a job in the food industry upon release.

Carl finds teaching to be incredibly rewarding. “I want to be an instructor when I’m done with my degree. This has been a great stepping stone. It’s like an internship,” he said.

Carl is one of 55 people to complete this program to date. Recent graduates are excited about the upcoming opening of the MGM casino which promises an increase in jobs in the very industry they’ve spent the past few months training for. Kermit Dunkelberg, Assistant Vice President of Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development, noted at the graduation, “Employers are hungry for talent. With the skills you have built here, you’re what they’re looking for.” The Executive Chef of MGM himself attended the graduation.

The day ended with high spirits as proud family members hugged their loved ones, graduates shared excitement about upcoming job fairs and interviews, and program managers and instructors committed to continue to support graduates even after they completed the program. Kermit repeated the mantra “This isn’t about a job; this is about a career.”

As for me, I left the event feeling inspired, hopeful, and grateful that I’d saved room for dessert – the crème brûlée was the best I’ve ever had.

Written by Erin Clark

An Untapped Labor Pool: Employing People with Disabilities

At Commonwealth Corporation, we are dedicated to workforce development within Massachusetts, a state that is heavily reliant on its aging labor pool. As increasing numbers of the working population retire we are facing an inevitable shortage of skilled talent.

The need for workers is great—and yet Massachusetts sits in the bottom half of states by employment rate for people with disabilities,  at approximately 36.6 percent. One solution to the worker shortage in Massachusetts: employ more people with disabilities.

While the rate for acquiring a disability increases as one gets older, recent data suggests that most people with disabilities are within the working ages of 18 to 64. This suggests that there are other forces contributing to the employment discrepancy between people with disabilities and people without. There is a great deal of variability in the shares of people with disabilities by state highlighted in the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report.

Commonwealth Corporation would like to convene experts in the field who are interested in this topic. Therefore, using the hashtag #CommCorpChat, we will be hosting a Twitter Chat on April 25th from 1-2pm to discuss the various challenges that make it difficult for people with disabilities to engage fully in the labor market.

During this chat we hope to engage workforce development professionals, employers, training providers, and those within the disability community to come together to bring forth unique ideas and possible solutions. We will explore the following questions during the chat:

  1. What are best practices for PWD who chooses to disclose their disability to an employer?
  2. How can workers contribute to the de-stigmatization of physical and or mental disabilities?
  3. How can a PWD address a gap in their resume when they re-enter the workforce?
  4. How can career centers and other workforce development organizations work together with PWD to support their job search?
  5. Many hiring procedures draw from normative processes that can exclude PWD from suitable positions. How can employers create a more inclusive hiring process?
  6. How can workforce development strategies better support PWD in obtaining the skills, confidence, and support needed to procure a ‘good’ job?
  7. How can employers and the disability community collaborate to create a welcoming work environment for PWD?
  8. What advice would you give to PWD who want to re-enter the workplace but worry that their benefits will go away as a result?

We look forward to engaging in a dialogue that will assist in tackling the systemic issues that have contributed to this employment disparity. We hope you can join us @commcorp_MA!



A Framework for Building a Disability-Inclusive Organization
Ideas for Writing an Accommodation Request Letter to your Employer
The Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers Booklet
A Guide To Digital Inclusion For Recruiters

Event Recap: Facing the Future of Care

On January 26, 2018, Commonwealth Corporation hosted the event: Facing the Future of Care: Innovations in Recruitment and Retention of Home Care Workers. Held at the Worcester Senior Center, our audience was filled with home care employers, workforce board and career center staff, directors of home care and long term care associations and community college staff.

The event focused on changes in the health care workforce in Massachusetts, particularly the incredible growth in occupations involved with delivering care to individuals in their homes. Paul Harrington, from the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, shared our research and projections for the home care workforce, particularly related to personal care aides (PCAs) and home health aides. Strikingly, Paul noted that 1 in 10 new jobs over the next 10 years across the U.S. are projected to be in these home care occupations.

We also convened workforce professionals to share the work they are currently undertaking with employers to try and solve some of the challenges home care workers and employers are facing, including unpredictable schedules, transportation access, and benefit cliff effects.

Rebecca Gutman from 1199SEIU and Lisa Marschke from the Center from Health Policy and Research at Commonwealth Medicine presented on workforce supply and demand trends and recruitment strategies for PCAs to meet the needs of consumers through MassHealth’s PCA program.

Teri Anderson, the Executive Director of the Franklin Hampshire Employment and Training Consortium, shared a home care employer partnership she and the workforce board are convening that is working on strategies to support workers in getting more consistent hours of work and addressing transportation challenges in the region.

Click here to see the presentations from the event.

The presentations were followed by small group discussions and a Q&A for presenters. One of the biggest take-aways was that the traditional ways that employers have addressed workforce shortages in the past are not going to be enough to meet the growing demand for home care services. These challenges call for strong and effective partnerships among employers themselves and between employers, workforce development, education/training institutions and workers. Exploring new approaches to solving these challenges is the only way we will be able to provide the care that some of our most vulnerable neighbors need.

We thank the Worcester Senior Center and the students and staff of Quinsigamond Community College’s culinary arts and hospitality program for providing the space and refreshments for the event.

Facing the Future of Care was part of our event series related to Commonwealth Corporation’s Health Care Workforce Initiatives. Check out http://commcorp.org/events/ for any upcoming events.


Investing in Intervention Report Highlights Effective Strategies in Massachusetts

A recently released report from Giffords Law Center, PICO National Network, and the Community Justice Reform: Investing in Intervention: The Critical role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence highlights the impact of the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) and Shannon Community Safety Initiative, evidence-based violence prevention and intervention programs at work here in Massachusetts:

Excerpt from the report:

Massachusetts has demonstrated its commitment to addressing youth violence by providing funding and technical assistance to two statewide competitive grant programs: the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) and Shannon Community Safety Initiative (Shannon CSI).

Working in tandem, SSYI and Shannon CSI have stitched together a comprehensive network of violence prevention programs and social service providers that support at-risk Massachusetts youth from adolescence to adulthood. Because Shannon CSI targets a much younger population and focuses on long-term prevention, it is more difficult to assess its immediate impact, but program sites are consistently associated with a reduced number of arrests and assaults.

Evaluations of SSYI grantees, however, paint a clear picture. Between 2013 and 2016, Lowell, Massachusetts, saw overall firearm-related activity drop by 22%, gang-related criminal activity decline by 31%, and nonfatal shootings plummet by 61%. With the cost of gun violence estimated at just under half a million dollars per gun homicide, it’s easy to see how SSYI is producing meaningful savings for Massachusetts taxpayers. A 2014 report estimates that SSYI programs in Boston and Springfield saves the state at least $15 million per year.

SSYI is a multifaceted, community-based strategy that combines public health and public safety approaches to reduce violence among proven-risk, young men ages 17-24. It operates in 12 communities across the state disproportionately impacted by violence and serves thousands of people each year.

Commonwealth Corporation provides program management and technical assistance for SSYI on behalf of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Click here for the full report.

The Massachusetts Health Care Workforce is Changing

Recently, we released a series of reports that we produced with the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University (CLMP) under contract with the Office of the State Auditor.  Chapter 224 of the Acts of 2012—“An Act Improving the Quality of Health Care and Reducing Costs Through Increased Transparency, Efficiency and Innovation” directed the Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor (OSA) to “conduct a comprehensive review of the impact of [Chapter 224] on the health care payment and delivery system in the Commonwealth and on health care consumers, the health care workforce, and general public.” Over the past few years, Commonwealth Corporation and CLMP interviewed more than a dozen stakeholders and conducted focus groups of health care employers and workers. We analyzed publicly available data to understand how the industrial and occupational structure of health care employment in the Commonwealth has changed.  Below are a few highlights from the various papers detailing the results of our work.

Shift from inpatient to outpatient settings

The health care industry is in the process of transforming care delivery systems and shifting focus from inpatient to outpatient settings. From 2012 to 2015, outpatient providers, including doctor’s offices and home health agencies, added 4.2 jobs for every 1 job created by inpatient providers, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Growth in occupations with stagnant wages

Direct care workers such as home health aides and personal care aides are anticipated to be some of the fastest growing occupations through 2024.  Unfortunately, these jobs have had stagnant wage growth since 2004, while wages for workers in all other industries have grown 8 percent.

Direct care occupations with similar skill requirements pose challenges for employers

Home health aides, personal care aides and community health workers/social and human service assistants share very similar requirements in terms of abilities, knowledge, skills and behavioral traits.  They require minimal formal training or education.  This means these occupations are very substitutable for one another.  Small differences in wages, hours and work setting can pull workers from one occupation to another.  This is a real challenge for employers who depend on external systems of reimbursement (such as Medicaid and Medicare).

Total number of nurses increased, those with associate’s degree declined

While the total number of nurses has increased since 2010-2011, those with only an associate’s degree have declined, offering some evidence of up-skilling in certain settings, such as hospitals.


For more information, you can find links to the detailed reports below:


Selected Health Care Support and Direct Care Occupations in Massachusetts
This special topics report summarizes publicly available data and information gathered through interviews and focus groups with employers, workers, labor leaders and state officials in order to understand the labor market context of three already large and fast growing health care support and direct care occupations: home health aides, personal care aides, and community health workers (CHWs)/social and human service assistants.

Characteristics of Workers and Jobs in the Massachusetts Health Care Industry
The paper examines changes that have occurred in the demographic traits and the employment patterns and earnings of the state’s health care workforce between 2011, the year before the passage of Chapter 224, and the most current year for which data are available, 2015.

Developments in Certificate and Degree Completions in Health Care Fields of Study in Massachusetts, 2001-2012 and 2012-2015
This paper provides information on trends in postsecondary completions in health care-related fields of study in Massachusetts over the 2001 to 2012 period, representing the period before the passage of Chapter 224, and over three years following the enactment of Chapter 224, 2012 to 2015.

Health Care Employment, Structure and Trends in Massachusetts
Fundamental changes have occurred in the way that health care is delivered in Massachusetts in recent years and this is reflected in the changing nature of demand for labor among the various component industries that make up the health care and social assistance sector. This paper examines the nature of these changes along a variety of labor market related dimensions and makes some observations about the outlook for growth and future change in health care diagnostic and practitioner occupations and in health care support/direct care occupations.

Mass Layoffs in the Health Care Industry in Massachusetts, 2004-2016
This paper examines mass layoff activity within the state’s health care and social services industry relative to other major industry sectors over the 2004 to 2016 period, just before and after the implementation of Chapter 224.

Profiles of Fifteen High Growth Health Occupations in Massachusetts
This research brief presents a profile of 15 occupations in the Massachusetts health care industry. These occupations were selected on the basis of their importance within the state’s health care industry, either because of strong growth in employment or because of the emerging importance of the role that workers in these occupations play in the changing health care service delivery environment in the state.

Summary of the Health Care Workforce Transformation Trust Fund Grants
As health care employers align with the goals of Chapter 224 and cost controls begin to alter the delivery of health care services in differing ways within the sector, providers are changing some of their business processes, occupational job descriptions, and staffing structures. In anticipation of these changing skill and knowledge demands, Chapter 224 established the Health Care Workforce Transformation Fund. The Fund, which is administered by Commonwealth Corporation, was designed to support training and education activities that help health care employers address workforce challenges related to their efforts to meet the cost containment and quality improvement objectives of Chapter 224.  In 2015 and 2016 Commonwealth Corporation awarded training grants to 59 organizations. The organizations spanned the state and included health care providers in every health care sector. This paper provides information about the training grant applications and the 59 grants.

Made in Massachusetts: CommCorp Celebrates Manufacturing Month

Did you know that October is Manufacturing Month? Massachusetts is home to a diverse group of nearly 7,000 manufacturers who produce everything from electronic ink to gluten-free goodies to robotics. To celebrate Manufacturing Month, we are highlighting a few of these “Made in MA” products and would like to introduce you to a few of the truly revolutionary manufacturers in the state.

Manufacturing continues to be an important sector in the Commonwealth’s economy with over 245,000 employees and 6,000+ full and part time job openings as of August 2017. The industry has been experiencing a growing demand for workers and is looking to fill positions as more people are retiring.

See below for some of the products being made right here in our state.

Who: Vibram
Location: North Brookfield

Have you ever looked on the bottom of your shoe and seen a yellow octagon on its sole?
You’ve got yourself a Vibram product. Vibram, an Italian company with US headquarters here in MA, manufactures and licenses the production of rubber outsoles for footwear. For all you hikers and people who enjoy the outdoors, you might know them as the maker of the Vibram FiveFingers shoes. Vibram soles can be found on footwear used in heavy industry, the military, law enforcement, and in general outdoor and fashion styles. In addition to footwear, Vibram manufactures a line of disc golf discs.

Who: E Ink
Location: Billerica (research and development), South Hadley (production)

Image from amazon.com

You’re either one of two types: you prefer the feel of a physical book in your hands, or the convenience of an e-reader. We’re not here to debate which is better, but we were excited to learn that E Ink, the world’s leading innovator of electronic paper display technology (EPD), operates right here in Massachusetts! The company delivers its advanced display products to the world’s most influential brands and manufacturers, enabling them to install extremely durable, low power displays in previously impossible or unimaginable applications and environments.

Who: Gillian’s Foods
Location: Salem

Do you or someone in your family have to avoid wheat, nuts or gluten? This company has a product you might want to check out. Gillian’s Foods is a small family owned company founded with the purpose of making high quality, gluten-free-foods. The facility is dedicated to a gluten, wheat, tree nut & peanut free environment. Their products include gluten-free rolls, onion rolls, sandwich bread, ziti, pasta, pizza dough, pizza, pie shells, pumpkin pie, cakes, bread crumbs, rice flour, potato flour, tapioca flour, gluten & wheat free mixes.

Who: Hydroid, Inc.
Location: Pocasset

Have you ever seen footage from deep sea exploration? Perhaps of the Titanic? It’s companies like Hydroid Inc. that make it possible. Hydroid, Inc. is a field-proven technology leader in advanced marine robotics, specifically autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

The company designs and manufactures state-of-the-art solutions for use in a number of applications including marine research, commercial and defense. Their AUVs make undersea exploration safer and more efficient. They have been used in everything from undersea mine countermeasures to deep sea exploration, including mapping the Titanic, to the recovery of downed aircraft (Air France Flight 447).

Who: BionX Medical Technologies
Location: Bedford

BionX has an inspirational goal: to restore normalized function and quality of life for people with amputations. More than 1,400 people have experienced the power of BionX’s prosthesis, the only prosthesis with powered propulsion for enhanced mobility. BionX is the creator of both the BioM and emPOWER ankle. emPOWER is the next generation design of the BiOM Ankle.

The above companies are grantees of the Workforce Training Fund. Click here for a full list of grantees.

Promoting Success: Tips for Employers

Over the past few years, Commonwealth Corporation has been studying the underlying causes of the decline in youth employment.  In 2013, we published two studies with the Center for Labor Markets & Policy at Drexel University: Signaling Success: Boosting Teen Employment Prospects and Building Blocks of Labor Market Success.  These studies looked at the skills, knowledge and behaviors that businesses were seeking in entry-level workers.  We recently took the next step to understand how to prepare young workers and entry-level workers to navigate their careers and prepare and present themselves for advancement opportunities.  We conducted this research in two phases: phase one focused on input from businesses and phase two centered on input from young adults.

For phase one of the research, we surveyed businesses regarding how they assess entry-level workers for their potential for advancement as well as the internal policies and practices around promotions.  We followed up the surveys with focus groups and interviews with businesses to test and flesh out the survey findings.  Altogether we reached more than 230 businesses from a range of industries and across every region of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

We are excited to release a preview of the findings from the business phase of our research in the form of tips and best practices for businesses on developing entry-level talent, for programs that serve young workers, and for entry-level employees themselves.  Our first “tips” tool, “Promoting Success: Tips for Employers” is directed toward businesses.  We hope that you find the research and findings useful as you recruit and develop talent, particularly in today’s very tight labor market.

Currently we are wrapping up phase two of the study; we are conducting focus groups of young workers 18-24 to understand how they make career decisions and what tools they use to inform those decisions.  We have produced another tool for organizations working to prepare young people for work: Promoting Success: Tips for Youth Organizations, and we expect to release findings from phase two and a full report in the fall.




Achieving Impactful Outcomes: Key Characteristics of Successful Sector Partnerships

As Nancy introduced, this is the fourth and final post in our Spring WCTF Blog Series, Achieving Impactful Outcomes: Observations from WCTF. In today’s post, CommCorp Senior VP Rebekah Lashman will explore the characteristics of successful sector partnerships.


Over the past 10 years we’ve invested Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and other state and federal resources in more than 80 programs that have been designed and managed by regional industry sector partnerships.  Our goal for these investments has been to prepare and place Massachusetts residents who would not otherwise be considered to be strong candidates in jobs that are in demand by regional businesses.  Some of the programs have been highly successful; others have struggled.   As we’ve observed them over the years, we’ve developed some conclusions about the characteristics of successful sector partnerships.  They fall into three buckets:

Clarity of Focus

Partnerships that focus on specific labor market problems develop more effective programs. They are more likely to invest in continuous improvement and are in a better position to meet additional needs of the targeted industry.

We suggest that partnership members pick a single occupation (or a closely-related set of occupations) for which there is clear evidence that there is current and near-term (one to two years) demand for workers. Last month my colleague Theresa Rowland and I had the privilege of offering a workshop at the Commonwealth Workforce Coalition Conference. We shared some resources for identifying an occupation and included a guide to interviewing regional employers about occupational demand.

We also suggest that partnerships focus on a target population around which they will design the program. The most successful industry sector programs address the intersection between the skills and knowledge required for an occupation and the experience and skills that are attainable for a target population within a reasonable timeframe.  Click here for another resource where we share some additional thoughts about how to approach this analysis.


Complementarity – of Members’ Missions, Resources, and Expertise

We’re all crazy busy and are feeling under increasing pressure to do more with less.  No one, whether they work for a non-profit or public agency or a private organization, will remain committed to and engaged in a group for very long if the work isn’t aligned in some way with the mission of their organization and if they don’t have relevant resources or expertise to contribute to the group.  There just isn’t enough time in the day or week. Every member of the partnership should be able to articulate what they or their organization will gain from participating and what they are bringing to the table that is essential for success. In our RFPs we always insist that a sector partnership include businesses that have a current and likely ongoing need for workers in the targeted occupation. The business members have the most information about the skill requirements for the occupation and about hiring practices and organizational culture. They should certainly participate in the program design and can often play a role in instruction, particularly if they can contribute a skilled worker who also has been trained in effective teaching methods.

But there are many other areas of expertise that are essential for an effective industry sector program and are not likely to be in a business member’s wheelhouse. These include recruitment, assessment, social services, case management and career coaching, work readiness skill building, contextualized literacy, numeracy, English-language proficiency, and job development.

We’re currently working with eight partnerships whose members are engaged in a rigorous program design exercise in which they are assessing and revising every element of their programs to ensure that they meet the requirements of their target occupations and the needs of their target populations.  We’ve been learning along with them – our colleague Anthony Britt discussed the essential elements of program design in his blog in May.   We’ve also developed an outline of the phases of industry sector program development and some suggested steps.


As you can see, we believe that it is almost impossible to overestimate the level of effort and investment required to conduct effective program design and delivery.  We suggest that throughout the design process partnership members conduct an extensive inventory of the expertise, capacity and resources needed to ensure that the partnership has the collective capacity to be successful in designing and carrying out the program.

Commitment – to Roles, Responsibilities and Data-Driven Decision Making

Over the years partnership members have told us they are most effective when they are clear about what they have committed to do, what role they are playing, how decisions will be made and how they will know whether their program is successful. It is essential to identify an organization that will serve as the convener and staff of the partnership. We discussed this in our Partnership Guide in detail but the most critical capacities for the convener include relationship management, participant-level data collection and analysis and fiscal and project management.

We also believe strongly that members should develop a shared program development work plan and an MOA that articulates the role, responsibility and resource commitments of each member of the partnership as well as the decision making processes.

Finally, as Theresa suggested in her blog in April, the work of industry sector partnerships must be data-driven. The members should insist on, and commit to participating in, a continuous process improvement cycle. In order to do this, they will need identify the data required to assess the effectiveness of each program element, develop data collection and analysis capacity, and establish a schedule and protocol for reviewing the data and revising the program as needed.

None of this is easy.  After all, industry sector partnerships are coming together to solve labor market problems. But we believe that it is essential if we are to be successful in ensuring that Massachusetts’ residents are prepared to meet the talent needs of our state’s businesses. What has your experience taught you about industry sector partnerships? Please contribute to our ongoing efforts to share lessons and effective practices.

Written by Rebekah Lashman, Senior VP for Sector Strategies at Commonwealth Corporation. Rebekah leads the design of CommCorp’s investments in sectoral employment and skills upgrading programs including the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and the Workforce Training Fund.