The workforce development system in Massachusetts is comprised of public and nonprofit education, training, and employment programs and resources, and business and employer support programs (for instance: Hiring Incentive Training Grant program). This system includes public schools, community colleges and universities, one-stop career centers, Workforce Investment Boards, and nonprofits. It provides education and training to new and incumbent workers and operates in partnership with businesses and industries. A successful workforce development system produces qualified workers that meet and stay current with the skill needs of industries and businesses.
However, our workforce development system today does not fully address and serve the needs of many Massachusetts food businesses. Our system can be improved by adding training for current and anticipated occupations and business opportunities in the food system, particularly those in fishing, food manufacturing, distribution, food service, and community health. Going forward, as the demand for locally sourced food increases, the skill needs and benefits for workers and businesses will continue to evolve. For example, urban workforce development providers’ understanding of food system work needs to be broadened to include not only distribution but urban farming and other forms of urban food production, as well.
There is also a need to assess and increase the alignment between business and worker needs for training and education with available workforce development, education, and training resources at all levels. These assessments and alignments are also needed for both new and incumbent food system workers. Food-related businesses, like many others, may not be taking full advantage of existing programs, or realize that they are available. Or they may simply feel that the difficulty of accessing support isn’t worth the time and paperwork.
Some food system workforce challenges have already been identified. Farmers, fishermen, and food producers express concern about having access to an adequate labor supply. Currently there are limited connections between graduates of Massachusetts’ growing number of agricultural and food system training programs and employers in the food system. In addition, food system work is often seasonal, part-time, and low-wage; it also typically does not come with benefits, such as health insurance and vacation. Further, these jobs often have limited and unclear paths for advancement and better wages. Therefore, providing food businesses with technical assistance to support business planning, business health, and expansion will help address labor challenges and ensure stronger food system businesses. The following goals, recommendations, and actions highlight opportunities to align Massachusetts’ workforce development system with its growing local food economy. See Appendix A for a more detailed assessment and gap analysis of the existing workforce development system.