Age and Education Hurdles for Pioneer Valley Economy
A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston finds the economy of the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts hobbled by a mismatch between available jobs and younger workers' skills.
In the depth of the recent recession, more than half of the region's unemployed were younger than 34 - even though they made up a far smaller part of the labor force. And over the past decade the number of young people with a high school degree or more has stagnated. At the same time the number of residents who are 55 or older has been growing by 5 percent every year.
"The issues that are probably of the biggest concern are really the demographic issues."
Nancy Schneider is president of the Commonwealth Corporation, which tries to align educational programs WITH workforce needs. She says as baby boomers retire, area businesses face a shortage of younger workers to take their place. Take advanced manufacturing.
"This is an industry where there was a lot of hiring in the 70s. Now you'll talk to manufacturers who say '50 percent of my workforce is going to be eligible for retirement in the next five years.' In that case we really haven't been creating a pipeline of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing. And in many respects while community colleges are important partner there, so are technical and vocational high schools."
Economist Robert Nakosteen from the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst, says, even with a better school-to-employer pipeline, the region is still likely to suffer greater employment problems than the rest of the state.
"This region educates a lot of people, bot tat the community college and the four-year and graduate level. The problem is that we don't keep we don't retain them in the region and that's because there really aren't enough opportunities for employment in the region."
The report's authors say those who get a higher degree and do want to stay around should consider jobs in advanced manufacturing, green energy and -- with the baby boomer generation aging fast -- health care.