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Beverly Citizen - Workers Need Skills to Fill Millions of Jobs

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Several years ago Mike Munday was facing laying off about 60 people and, maybe, closing his doors at Arwood Machine Corp. in Newburyport.

Today Munday has not only kept the 100 jobs at his shop, but he also has nine positions he can't fill for lack of qualified workers -- jobs that pay between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.

A $100,000 federal grant to reeducate and retrain his workers so his company could enter a new market -- manufacturing aerospace parts -- fueled the turnaround and kept $2.4 million in annual payroll flowing to the 60 workers who kept their jobs.

"That's a pretty good investment," said Munday of the grant made possible in part by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Salem, sees the possibility of duplicating Munday's success with other companies throughout the country and has filed legislation to continue, or reauthorize, the Workforce Investment Act.

Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, and George Miller, D-California filed the bill with Tierney in the House of Representatives last week and the U.S. Senate has its own version of the bill.

The goal is to wed education at community colleges more closely to the jobs available in regional economies around the country -- mostly in the fields of highly skilled manufacturing, health care and biotechnology.

The program brings local business leaders, like Munday, labor representatives and educators together to develop new education and training programs to meet an ever-changing job market's needs.

The various leaders work together on workforce investment boards, developing the education programs needed to meet the labor market's needs

"We have to be flexible and fast enough," said Tierney in a phone interview. "We need to put together a plan for workers to get the skills to get the jobs that exist."

Tierney pointed to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that says there are 3.5 million jobs open across the country, most of which are open because employers can't find workers with the skills to fill them.

In addition to Munday's nine jobs he can't fill, General Electric will have 200 skilled manufacturing jobs opening up in the near future, Tierney said.

In Massachusetts, the Patrick administration estimates 119,000 open jobs can't be filled because employers can't find workers with the skills to fill them, Tierney said.

The Obama administration's education bill provided $2 billion over four years to provide competitive grants to community colleges around the country for pilot job reeducation and training programs. Massachusetts community colleges received $20 million in grants, which funded Munday's $100,000 grant.

Munday worked with Northern Essex Community College and with a private consultant to bring his company up to the standards needed to manufacture aerospace parts and diversify from the medical equipment manufacturing the company had been doing.

Across the country, Tierney said, of the 162,458 workers who received job training through the pilot programs, 70 percent found jobs and of the 130,000 who were retrained for new jobs when their old jobs disappeared or moved overseas, 66 percent found jobs.

Tierney said a reauthorized Workforce Investment Act would duplicate the successful pilot programs at community college's around the country and also require community colleges to show how many of their students who graduate with a certificate or credential actually get jobs upon graduation.

Tierney sees education as an array of certificates, certifications and degrees, which meets a broad range of labor, needs in the economy.

"It's a continuum," said Tierney. "Every family needs opportunity and security. Some have college degrees or even a Ph.D. But these days you need more than high school. You have to go beyond high school or a GED and get a certificate or credential that shows you can do the work."

At Arwood, Munday sees only more need for skilled manufacturing workers.

"We have a lot of machinists ready to retire," said Munday. "I call it the silver tsunami. We've become a self-fulfilling prophecy of manufacturing jobs going away. We don't encourage people to go into manufacturing. So, we don't have the workers to fill the jobs. This is coming to head pretty quickly now. If the Workforce Investment Act is not renewed, it will be a disaster."

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