By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
ECCF Communications Writer
This fall, new data on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the technology workforce on the North Shore of Massachusetts will be released by the UMass Donahue Institute.
The study, largely funded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative with additional support coming from Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), will be used to fuel collaborative work to connect job seekers to area employers challenged to fill lucrative, technology-based career opportunities.
Groups across the North Shore – including nonprofits, state agencies, educational institutions and businesses – are already working together to build training, apprenticeship and internship programs, and expand the local pipeline for burgeoning tech-reliant sectors, like life sciences and advanced manufacturing. New data will serve to lay the groundwork for additional partnerships and expanded career pathways.
“I’m very excited to unpeel the onion on activities going on here,” said Branner Stewart, senior research manager at the Donahue Institute, who grew up in Salem and lives in Marblehead. “We have a lot of assets here; we have a lot of talent.”
This new data will help strengthen the case for cross-sector investment when it comes to development of the technology workforce on the North Shore and in Essex County.
“I think this will help us move beyond general conversation and get some facts,” said Tom Chmura, co-chair of government advocacy at North Shore Technology Council (NSTC).
The study was launched this May following a gathering of legislators, academic institutions, nonprofits and industry leaders, held at Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School. The convening, “Reimagining the North Shore Technology Workforce Part II,” was a follow-up to a successful initial meeting in May 2022, both organized by NSTC, North Shore InnoVentures, MassHire North Shore Workforce Board and ECCF.
The goal of these gatherings is to connect different parts of the workforce ecosystem and fuel collaboration, innovation and sustainable solutions to challenges.
“When you bring all these sectors together, amazing things can happen,” Angus McQuilken, co-chair of government advocacy at NSTC, told a packed Smith Hall Auditorium at Essex North Shore.
“I can relate to the concerns of workforce challenges in this region,” said Tracey Curley, NSTC president and CEO of iSpecimen, a Lexington-based company specializing in biospecimen procurement. “As we reimagine our workforce, we need to take into consideration those companies that, in the post-COVID world, have gone remote. My people don’t want to come to the office because the commute is so horrific.”
Curley’s experience highlights the vital need for cross-sector collaboration; expanding the technology workforce pipeline not only includes increasing career pathways, but also tackling challenges like transportation and housing.
At the Part II meeting, in addition to the new study, the group also discussed ways to engage young people and educate them about some of these technology-based careers, which continue to grow under a cloud of misconception among youth and young adults.
“They’re envisioning people shoveling coal,” said Mary Sarris, executive director at MassHire North Shore, who has long encouraged companies to offer high school internships as a way to gain exposure to otherwise unfamiliar career possibilities. “These sorts of interactions are what young people really need to help them see and understand what this workforce is really like.”
Students can be hugely productive for companies, she emphasized, and early exposure to the industry only serves to feed the workforce pipeline.
“Any company here in the audience, we’re not letting you out of here until you agree to do an internship,” Sarris joked.
Tom O’Donnell, director of UMass Lowell’s Innovation Hub, has been working on strengthening the relationship between academia and industry towards that goal of collectively creating clear and concise career pathways.
“If you look at this region, we are absolutely blessed with all these resources,” he said. “The opportunity in front of us is to work together.”
The push for collaboration is key to overcoming the workforce challenges being experienced not only here on the North Shore and in Essex County, but also across the state, said Massachusetts Undersecretary for Workforce Development Jennifer James Price, who served as the keynote speaker for the event.
“The work of this Council to go deeper is really one of the most fundamental pieces,” she said. “It takes time.
It takes commitment, but this is what it takes to build new workers in a short labor supply.”
She stressed that not only has the labor force “pie” gotten smaller while demand for workers has exploded, but she also cited the skills mismatch as a major hurdle facing employers right now.
“I’m not here to tell you something you didn’t know,” said Price. “It’s a worker’s market and companies are trying to adapt.”
The Healey-Driscoll administration, she said, is very focused on K-12 STEM education.
“There is a lot on the table to build partnerships with technology companies and K-12 education,” said Price. “There is a lot of good news. There is a lot of good funding.”
Tech firm, Applied Materials, a leading semiconductor and display equipment company with offices in Gloucester, recently established an assembly training program for high school graduates. The company has also connected high school students with recent college grads employed there as a way to introduce young people to the industry.
“They’ve all got phones,” said Wilkinson. “But no one knows what’s inside. I think walking through our manufacturing floor makes their eyes kind of go wide.”