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Gov. Baker and Sec. Walker

Gov. Baker and Sec. Walker

WORCESTER, MA, JUNE 19, 2015…The federal government has given states new flexibility to design their own workforce development systems, which gives Massachusetts the ability to customize skill-building programs in regions around the state, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday.

Gov. Baker met with a group of career center directors, workforce board members and operational staff who gathered at UMass Medical Center in Worcester. It was the first meeting, in recent memory, between a Massachusetts governor and a large group of public workforce system staff.

With the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, the Obama administration has “taken the training wheels off,” when it comes to workforce development systems, Gov. Baker said, in the hopes that states will think creatively about skill-building programs and economic development.

Gov. Baker said the majority of governors attending the National Governors’ Association meeting in February described skill-building and workforce development as their states’ biggest impediment to economic growth.

“My fundamental point is this is something that has become extremely important to anybody who is thinking about economic development,” Gov. Baker said.

Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker, II, reiterated his desire to move the public workforce system toward increasingly meeting the demands of employers.

“We are going to call it Demand 2.0,” Walker said.

Alice Sweeney, the director of the Department of Career Services, described the changes in federal law as an opportunity to “push the refresh button,” on the workforce system.

Sweeney said a year from now she hopes the federal government will look to Massachusetts as an example of a state workforce system that works well.

There are partnerships happening around the state, and examples of collaboration, but there needs to be a cultural shift, Secretary Walker said.

“Yes, we will work with the people who come through the door, but we want more customized models,” Secretary Walker said. “With WOIA, we have the opportunity to structure demand.”

“The bottom line is we want to be ahead of their demands,” he added.

As Walker tours the state talking to business executives, they often tell him about the number of jobs they cannot fill. Too many employers are unaware of the Career Centers’ ability to be a resource.

Walker said he sees an opportunity to rebrand the Career Centers. “When they think jobs, they have to think Career Centers,” he said.

The challenge for Massachusetts is to spread the economic prosperity of Greater Boston into other parts of the state, Gov. Baker said.

“We are definitely two states when you think about job growth and per capita income growth,” Gov. Baker said.

While unemployment in Massachusetts has reached pre-recession levels, dropping to 4.6 percent in May, there are still more than 160,000 people out of work.

The governor said it is a high priority for his administration to connect people who are looking for jobs with employers who need skilled workers to fill vacant slots.

“We are going to try to do all we can to leverage the assets and knowledge and capability that we have around Massachusetts,” Gov. Baker said.

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