DANVERS — As Massachusetts gears up for a “cataclysmic” worker shortage by 2030, local colleges and universities are seeking out partnerships to put as many students into desks, and then jobs, as possible.
The North Shore Chamber of Commerce held the first of several Business Insight breakfast forums planned for 2023 at Danversport on Wednesday morning. The event hosted five Essex County college leaders and asked them to outline what their community is doing for workforce development.
“As we began considering our focus for 2023, it quickly became evident to us that there’s still much to be done in the area,” said Joe Riley, chairperson of the chamber’s Board of Directors. “Businesses are still struggling to recruit and retain staff, and hiring remains the top issue for many of our chamber businesses.”
The chamber’s events this year will in part explore this theme, Riley said, to dig into “what needs to be done to ensure the region can attract a qualified workforce to allow our member businesses to grow and prosper.”
Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill and Lawrence, led off with a grim statistic.
“Back in 2014, we published some research that suggested by 2030, the Commonwealth would be 46,000 college educated workers short of what we needed for the workforce,” Glenn said, referencing efforts of MassInc and a study it ran with the UMass Donahue Institute. “We’re four times as short now. We’re close to 200,000 anticipated college-educated workers short of what we’ll need by 2030.
“That’s catastrophic,” Glenn said.
To respond, NECC has pushed to expand early college partnerships with public schools, according to Glenn. With that, high school students considering college can earn credits ahead of time, increasing access to education after high school.
“Early college programming is able to reach more low-income students, students of color, students in gateway cities ... that aren’t always accessing a college education the way they want and need to,” Glenn said. “By doubling down, tripling down the resources, investment, time, and focus, ... we’re able to accelerate and get closer to that target we have by 2030. We’re knocking that number down.”
The event also heard from Nate Bryant, vice president of student success at Salem State University; Mike Hammond, president of Gordon College; William Heineman, president of North Shore Community College; and Kurt Steinberg, president of Montserrat College of Art.
Bryant outlined Salem State’s focuses on internships to help students get their foot in the door of a job ahead of graduation. A philanthropy campaign is launching to drive more money into internships, because “internships are great, but for our students, if the internships aren’t paid, it doesn’t move the needle for them.”
“The hope will be that every student who leaves Salem State University will have embarked on an internship,” Bryant said.
Steinberg said more than half of those with internships at Montserrat “get a job offer after that internship, which is something we’re very proud of.”
One might argue Montserrat offers degrees that don’t lead to jobs ... such a degree concentrating on painting. For that, Steinberg presented several examples of students taking Montserrat degrees to the job market. One example spotlighted Zoie Bleau, a 2020 graduate with a concentration in sculpture work. Today, she’s one of the only people in the state with an expertise in sonic welding.
“She’s now actually making astronaut suits for NASA and high-pressure suits for the Air Force, because she knows how to weld,” Steinberg said. “So ... she’s doing sonic welding.”
Heineman said North Shore Community College is attacking the projected workforce gap by feeding demand for non-degree credentials — the various certificates and programs completed at a college that run shorter than, for example, a two-year associate’s degree.
As career technical education continues to surge in popularity and take students away from college campuses, Heineman noted that there’s more to the world than just what’s served by CTE. Partnerships with schools such as the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School, a local juggernaut in the CTE world, allow “someone to start with something as simple and basic as machinist training.”
“What we’re also trying to do is recognizing that manufacturing companies do more than mechanical stuff. They do marketing. They have management, human resources,” Heineman said. “The point is, you can get on the train whenever you want to, get off the train whenever you want to, and it’s easy to hop on wherever you want to.”
But there’s nothing bigger to colleges than partnerships with businesses, something all schools in attendance said they wanted more of from members of the chamber.
“We’ve found, as we do job fairs on our campuses ... their median salaries were $12,000 higher than those that didn’t (go to job fairs),” Hammond said. “That’s because they’re connecting with you, employers who want them to come and make a difference.”