Regional Workforce Board Aims to Address the Commonwealth’s Workforce Needs in a Post-COVID Era - Part 1

Regional Leadership Supports A Strong Massachusetts Workforce


In 2015, MA Governor Charlie Baker established the Massachusetts’ Workforce Skills Cabinet (WSC) with the mission to improve the public workforce system and enhance regional economies around the Commonwealth by focusing on employers’ growing need for skilled workers.

“Creating strong regional economies by designing programs that meet the demands of workers and businesses in each region is important to driving economic growth and new job opportunities for our residents.” - MA Governor, Charlie Baker

Fast-forward to March 2020, and the Workforce Skills Cabinet is proving to be even more critical to the economy, now more than ever. For example, due to COVID-19, nearly 1 million people in Massachusetts filed for unemployment[1]. Moreover, there are 1 million adults in Massachusetts who have some college but no degree. Together, these 2 million people will need help upgrading their skills, finishing their college degree, or earning new credentials in order to reenter the workforce.

To help this displaced workforce, Rosalin Acosta, MA Secretary of Labor & Workforce Development, is leading an initiative as part of WSC – figuring out how each of the sixteen regions within the Commonwealth can best serve jobseekers and employers during this difficult time.

One of those sixteen regions, the Cape & Islands Workforce Board (CIWB), is at the forefront of this initiative – working closely with Secretary Acosta to understand the outlook for occupational and industry trends, how COVID-19 has impacted the local workforce, and how the Cape & Islands can best serve jobseekers and employers.

In this 4-part series, part one highlights:

  • The need for regional workforce boards and why they’re necessary for the stability and long-term viability of each region’s economy
  • How regional blueprints are the best way to make informed and educated decisions on allocating state funds
  • How COVID-19 has impacted Massachusetts’s workforce – displacing 1 million workers

Meet Kara Galvin, Executive Director of MassHire for the CIWB – which includes all of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

MassHire is a relatively new initiative – unifying the entire State’s workforce development system under a single name and shared mission.

Being commissioned by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD), the goal is to have all sixteen Massachusetts’ workforce boards become MassHire Workforce Boards.

What is the purpose of a workforce board (WDB)?

State and local workforce boards (WDBs) serve as connectors between the U.S. Department of Labor and local American Job Centers – providing workforce development leadership within their communities. These boards have the critical role of governance and oversight of federal and state resources – developing regional strategic plans and setting funding priorities for their area to support the regional network of career centers, education and training investments.

Massachusetts has 16 regional workforce boards which include:

  • Berkshire County
  • Franklin/Hampshire County
  • Hampden County
  • North Central Mass
  • Central Mass
  • Greater Lowell
  • Metro South/West
  • Merrimack Valley
  • North Shore
  • Metro North
  • Boston
  • South Shore
  • Brockton
  • Bristol
  • Greater New Bedford
  • Cape & Islands

The desired outcome of a workforce board is to have a skilled workforce that supports local business retention, expansion, and attraction within the region while promoting self-sufficiency, economic opportunity and lifelong learning.


Why does the Cape & Islands Need a Workforce Board (CIWB)?

A workforce board is critical in order to effectively and efficiently serve both jobseekers and businesses in a given region. WDBs conduct research to understand where the greatest needs are within their region and how best to help those in need to not only improve their individual situation but help the overall regional economy as well.

Without a well-functioning workforce board, it would be impossible to understand where to allocate state and federal funds which assist businesses and job seekers with strategies and programs that meet their diverse needs.

One of the sixteen regions, the Cape & Islands Workforce Board, provides critical labor market research, business engagement, and development within priority industries to assist in solving regional workforce issues and to meet the demands of its regional employers.

The makeup of a typical WDB consists of private-sector businesses working in concert with labor, education, and the public sector to design effective, demand driven workforce development services for job seekers and employers. This is done through the development of strategic partnerships within the economic development, education, workforce development, chambers of commerce, and local government leaders.

The CIWB serves as the oversight and policy-making body for federally funded employment and training services within the region and is organized as a private non-profit 501©3 corporation.


What is the Regional Blueprint Project?

In 2017 Governor Baker launched a new regional planning initiative aimed at addressing the skills gaps within the Commonwealth.  Led by the Workforce Skills Cabinet, this ongoing initiative is meant to align state and local programs, policies, and resources to fuel job growth, address employer demand for talent, and create clearer career pathways for jobseekers.

Regional blueprints are critical to each respective workforce board because they are used to inform policymaking and funding decisions aimed at strengthening each region’s economy within Massachusetts. Typically, regional blueprints need to be conducted every few years to identify any new industry or occupational trends as well as understanding how to best serve the region’s workforce needs through career and training services.

The CIWB convened a regional planning team, called WorkSmart. The original WorkSmart, led by former CIWB Executive Director, identified critical trends within the region such as occupational employment, regional challenges and opportunities, as well as conducted an industry demand analysis, and outlined regional short- and long-term goals.

With the retirement of the former Executive Director, the new Executive Director of MassHire, Kara, felt it was time to review and reexamine the existing blueprint. In Fall 2019, the CIWB issued a Request for Proposal (RFP), for a vendor to assist with updating the regional blueprints.


MassHire Partners with the UMass Donahue Institute

The UMass Donahue Institute submitted its proposal to MassHire’s RFP to provide the resources Kara and her team needed to obtain the necessary research and analysis for workforce and educational initiatives to better inform the regional blueprints.

With its strong background in research, education, program, and workforce development as well as their knowledge of the MassHire system, the Board of Directors knew UMDI was the right partner – adding significant value to the project.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit quickly and hard in March 2020 – negatively impacting both business owners and employees through the United States, just as the regional blueprint project was underway. Just like the rest of the world, the Cape & Islands were not immune to this.

MassHire and UMDI conducted meetings virtually but it didn’t slowdown the project and the timing couldn’t have been better. With so many employees and business owners now being impacted by the pandemic, the updated regional blueprints will provide Kara and her team with a clear pathway forward to help the Cape & Island’s get workers reemployed through career services and training.

This partnership is a great example of government, university, and non-profits coming together to address a need that directly impacts the State’s economy. Through this kind of connectivity and collaboration, Kara and her team at MassHire are able to better serve the unique needs of their region while ensuring the long-term stability and prosperity of the Cape & Island’s most important asset: its people.

As other regional workforce boards in Massachusetts reexamine their jobseeker’s and employer’s needs about how best to serve them during this tough time, the Cape & Island’s Workforce Board can serve as an example of how partnering with the right institutions and people make all the difference in generating positive outcomes and better solutions for regional challenges.

In the second part of this four-part series, we will highlight the industry findings from the research the Donahue Institute – specifically what the data is saying, what it means for the future of the Cape & Island workforce as well as how COVID-19 directly impacted the economy.