Baker admin demands urgency on voc-tech school access

Expanding vocational and technical education opportunities, particularly for adults seeking career changes, will help Massachusetts rebuild its economy after the pandemic’s devastation, Baker administration officials said Thursday.

Gov. Charlie Baker and his top deputies pitched the Career Technical Initiative program, which launched in January 2020 with a goal of training 20,000 skilled trades workers in four years, as a way to help close unemployment gaps that have widened in the COVID-19 era.

The statewide unemployment rate dropped to 6.8 percent in March, but it is far higher for people of color at an average 17.5 percent for Latino residents and 14.5 percent for Black residents, Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said.

Women have also been disproportionately affected by joblessness during the pandemic, representing 54 percent of the roughly half a million people still receiving benefits, Acosta said.

“The concern that we have is during this pandemic, those gaps are more pronounced than they were before,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito during a visit to Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School. “It brings to us a sense of urgency and a sense of mission to accelerate the pace of developing this talent, utilizing the resources and abilities you have.”

The administration awarded $2.1 million in grants to 10 vocational technical high schools on Thursday through its CTI program, aimed at increasing the programs they offer to help prepare more skilled workers in fields where demand is high but the pool of available employees is low.

Baker’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal calls for investing nearly $17 million more into the program, though it’s not clear if the Legislature will agree to that funding level.

(Copyright (c) 2021 State House News Service.