Prioritizing the Commonwealth's Workforce Development Needs through Online Learning

In 2018, Massachusetts’ Governor Charlie Baker, created an Executive Order that established the Commission of Digital Innovation and Lifelong Learning (DILL). The purpose of this order was for the Administration to prioritize maximizing opportunities for the people of Massachusetts to learn, increase their skills and abilities, secure productive and meaningful employment, and progress in their careers throughout their lives.

Fast forward to today, and Governor Baker’s Executive Order is coming to fruition and the timing couldn’t be better. On June 10, 2020, UMass Online and Mass General Brigham (MGB), formerly Partners Healthcare, announced a strategic educational partnership in direct response to the Governor’s order to maximize educational and workforce opportunities in Massachusetts.

The objective? Develop a curriculum to address the critical skills gaps within the healthcare industry in order to advance education for Mass General Brigham’s employees, something UMass Online is best positioned for. Heading into its 20-year anniversary, UMass Online has a longstanding history rooted in providing academic excellence to its online adult learners – making it the perfect partner to address this need head on.

Following the announcement of this strategic partnership, UMass Online hosted a virtual event with Mass General Brigham, Commonwealth Corporation, and Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Rosalin Acosta. Below, are excerpts from the event – highlighting where the mandate for addressing the workforce skills gaps originated, the need for the first-of-its kind partnership, what this means for the Commonwealth’s workforce, and how COVID has impacted this initiative.

How will online learning address Governor Baker's Executive Order for the Commission of DILL?

Governor Baker’s order states, "It is a priority of this Administration to maximize opportunities for the people of Massachusetts...including adult learners, people who are pursuing education while working, diverse learners, and young people disconnected from traditional education systems need affordable, flexible, high-quality options for higher education and training…”[1]

In Massachusetts alone, there are 1 million adults who began college but never finished. This is not an insignificant population and one that would benefit from degree completion programs, especially given the current record-breaking unemployment rates.

Online learning is ideal for adult learners since they often work full-time and manage a family on top of taking online classes. The daily challenges and barriers an adult learner can face are different than those experienced by traditional college students which means adult learners require a unique, innovative solution.

Christine Abrams, President and CEO, Commonwealth Corporation, shares results from a 2017 survey conducted by the Commission of DILL – asking Massachusetts adult learners what they were seeking when it came to college:

Online learning offers flexibility and accessibility; students choose when and where they study and participate in online discussions. This empowers online students to pursue their education, taking control of their own learning without having to sacrifice other areas of their life or put off finishing or earning a degree.

Through online learning, Mass General Brigham’s employees can continue working while pursuing a high-quality, employer-aligned education and training that will help set them up for success in the years to come as workforce demand in the healthcare industry continues to increase.

Why the Healthcare Industry?

Healthcare is the largest industry in the Commonwealth. According to BLS, the healthcare industry is expected to grow 14 percent in the next ten years, adding nearly 2 million more jobs in the sector. As the largest employer in Massachusetts, Mass General Brigham and the healthcare industry are vital to the overall well-being and health of the state’s economy.

What does the partnership between UMass Online and Mass General Brigham mean for adult learners in Massachusetts?

Due to the swift and detrimental impacts felt around the world from COVID, the state economy has seen a steep decline. As of June, there were 1 million unemployment claims in Massachusetts. Unemployment is at an all-time high for the state at a time when economic uncertainty is the new normal. The recently laid off workforce due to COVID coupled with the 1 million adults with some college but no degree, means there is going to be a considerable demand to help upskill and prepare for reentry into the workforce. Many displaced employees are learning they need more experience or need to advance their skills to be competitive in today’s job market. With COVID regulations, more are turning to online higher education to achieve this goal, and UMass Online and Mass General Brigham are here to help.

With more than 500,000 alumni around the world, including 300,000 who are living, working and leading companies and organizations throughout Massachusetts, UMass is the largest alumni network in New England. Mass General Brigham is the largest employer in Massachusetts with 78,000 employees. This partnership brings together a network of some of the best and brightest in their respective fields working hard for students and employees in Massachusetts.

How has COVID impacted the Commonwealth’s Workforce Development?

As mentioned above, there were 1 million unemployment claimants in Massachusetts as of June 2020. The State’s unemployment rate reached 15.1 percent compared to the National average of 14.7 percent. Not since the Great Recession, has Massachusetts’ unemployment rate been higher than the national average.

“Life changed with a light switch,”
Secretary Rosalin Acosta, MA Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development

The next focus for Secretary Acosta and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development will be to help the unemployed get re-employed as she explains in the below clip:

What is next for the Commonwealth’s Workforce?

Understanding the different workforce needs across the state is going to be critical. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work since what works for Berkshire County may not work for Suffolk County. This puts a greater emphasis on the need for regional, locally-based blueprints – conducting research and analysis to better understand each region’s:

  • Local labor market trends
  • Past and current industry trends
  • Critical trends in occupational employment
  • Career services and job training needs

Having these updated regional blueprints will put the State in a better position to understand the current workforce needs by region and how best to address them.

In the below clip, hear from Secretary Acosta on how the unemployment system could impact the future of workforce development in Massachusetts:


To watch the entire on-demand webinar, “Workforce Development in Times of Crisis and Critical Need,” click here.




About UMass Online

Rooted in Massachusetts since 1863, the University of Massachusetts has a longstanding track record of academic excellence – featuring faculty who are Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners as well as being a pioneer in online learning with the establishment of UMass Online 20 years ago.

As the University of Massachusetts' nationally acclaimed online education consortium for the past two decades, UMass Online offers 199 online degree programs and certificates, in addition to 4,000 online courses. In FY20, UMass Online had over 80,000 course enrollments across the five campuses.

Online programs at UMass are among the best in the nation and are the top programs in New England. Online bachelor's programs at UMass Amherst, UMass Boston and UMass Lowell were ranked as the top three programs in New England, respectively, and were among the top 50 nationally in U.S. News & World Report's Best Online Programs rankings.

About Commonwealth Corporation

Commonwealth Corporation is a quasi-public workforce development agency that strengthens the skills of Massachusetts youth and adults by investing in innovative partnerships with industry, education, and workforce organizations. Its primary goals are to build regional industry training partnerships that prepare youth and unemployed workers for jobs in demand that lead to higher rates of employment; to upgrade the skills of underemployed workers to meet specific employer skill demands leading to job retention, upgrades and wage gains, and; to increase the share of youth engaged in education and employment pathways preparing them for post-secondary education and careers. Commonwealth. Corporation’s goal is to extend Massachusetts’ leadership in education and training, and its overall prosperity, by ensuring that all people benefit from our economy.

The Commission was comprised of executives from some of Massachusetts' largest companies, college and university presidents, community and workforce system leaders, innovators in digital learning, and leading scholars of learning science, organizations, and the future of education and work.

About Mass General Brigham

Mass General Brigham is a not-for-profit health care system that is committed to patient care, research, teaching, and service to the community locally and globally. Collaboration among our institutions and health care professionals is central to our efforts to advance our mission.

Founded in 1994 by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Mass General Brigham includes community and specialty hospitals, a health insurance plan, a physician network, community health centers, home care and long-term care services, and other health care entities.

About the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development

EOLWD manages the Commonwealth’s workforce development and labor departments to ensure that workers, employers, and the unemployed have the tools and training needed to succeed in the Massachusetts economy.