Report: Pandemic to Shift ‘Center of Gravity' in Mass. Work Force

Compiled by the Future of Work Commission, Baker commissioned the report earlier this year to help inform state efforts to support workers and businesses, he said

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The coronavirus pandemic may shift the "center of gravity" in Massachusetts while high costs of living and doing business pose a risk of future job growth moving out-of-state, according to a new 82-page report released Tuesday.

"Overall, the report concludes that the changing ways of working may shift what we think of as the center of gravity here in Massachusetts, away from the urban core and toward the rest of the state," Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday while visiting Tufts Launchpad location for BioLabs, a biotech accelerator.

Compiled by the Future of Work Commission, Baker commissioned the report earlier this year to help inform state efforts to support workers and businesses, he said. Established through the 2020 jobs bill that Baker signed in January, the 17-member group is tasked with helping prepare Massachusetts for an economic future that includes more automation and other disruptive technology.

"The report's detailed analysis of workforce and economic trends gives us a roadmap for how we can take tangible steps to make sure that Massachusetts can continue to grow and thrive in a post-pandemic world," Baker said.

Changes in the economic landscape will mean that expansive workforce training will be needed to connect workers with the skills they need for the future economy, with potentially 300,000-400,000 people needing to transition to different occupations or occupational categories over the next decade.

Meanwhile, the report finds that the high cost of housing will remain a challenge – as will the need to ensure all communities can share equitably in the Commonwealth’s growth. The report estimates that the Commonwealth will need to produce 125,000-200,000 housing units by 2030.

"I worry a lot that we are going to push people who are renting today who might have the ability to buy with down payment assistance out of the communities that they're in because they don't own," Baker said.

Baker announced Tuesday that the Workforce Training Fund Program (WTFP) is awarding $8 million through its latest round of grants to about 100 businesses statewide. The team at BioLabs is receiving $102,000 through that program.

The Baker Administration is proposing to boost investments in programs like the WTFP through a $2.9 billion plan to spend part of the discretionary funds the state received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The Administration’s plan includes $240 million for workforce development and job-training programs.

Baker and people within his administration indicated a sense of urgency amid an ongoing battle over who gets to spend Massachusetts' nearly $5.2 billion in federal relief money.

"This federal funding has to be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026," Baker said. "I think some of this requires a long time to get from where we are to where we need to go."

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta also attended the event and highlighted existing and proposed investments in workforce development.

"We do need to get moving because as the governor said, we've got over 330,000 people falling off unemployment on September 4," Acosta said. "And if you ask me what keeps me up at night, it's that. It's not having those people engaged to the workforce. We need those folks engaged in the workforce immediately."

The Future of Work Commission plans to hold five hearings to review the impact of automation, artificial intelligence, global trade, access to new forms of data and the internet of things on workers, employers and the economy.

The held its first Zoom meeting at the end of June as the state began to emerge from a global pandemic that upended how people work. They heard from national experts on the challenges facing workers in the modern economy, and possible solutions for policymakers in Massachusetts to consider.

State House News Service contributed to this report.

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