Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative


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 (e.g. 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.

Massachusetts’ workforce development resources will meet the needs of food system workers and businesses.

Recommendation 1.1: Capture, analyze, and disseminate labor market information about food system occupations, industries, and businesses to workforce, education, training, and economic development entities and professionals.

Action 1.1.1: Annually acquire and analyze labor market information about food system jobs, including wages, job openings, and forecasts of job growth for existing, changing, and emerging food occupations. Engage Workforce Investment Boards and Commonwealth Corporation in these activities.

Action 1.1.2: Build on the occupational analysis done for this plan to refine the understanding of essential skills, knowledge areas, and necessary credentials for existing, changing, and emerging food system occupations.

Action 1.1.3: Develop information packets and presentations to disseminate labor market information. Tailor outreach relevant audiences, including career, guidance, teaching, and administrative staff at elementary and secondary schools, community, State colleges, universities, and to career counselors and business service representatives at one-stop career centers, and the staff of Workforce Investment Boards.

Action 1.1.4: Ensure that urban workforce development, education and training professionals, and organizations at all levels have relevant and appropriate food system job and career information pertinent to urban settings.

Action 1.1.5: Pair food system occupation information with upcoming labor market training being developed and put on by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Commonwealth Corporation.

Recommendation 1.2: Collect, update, and disseminate information on education and training resources to employers and workers.

Action 1.2.1: Expand and update the inventory produced for this plan to develop a robust, up-to-date inventory of education and training resources for food system businesses and workers.

Action 1.2.2: Conduct outreach to food system employers and facilitate introductions of One Stop Career Center business services staff to assist with dissemination of information about business support programs, such as Hiring Incentive Training grants and the Workforce Training Fund.

Recommendation 1.3: Support food system businesses of all kinds to work closely with workforce development entities to build a robust labor pool.

Action 1.3.1: Build practical connections that support the movement of trainees and graduates between agricultural and fisheries training programs to farms, fishing enterprises, and food production operations, including urban agricultural training programs.

Action 1.3.2: Support development of hands-on agricultural, fisheries, and food system training approaches through development of connections between education and training programs, as well as food system businesses.

Action 1.3.3: Expand and enhance relationships between the public workforce system and food system businesses, including those that may already work with through the H2A agricultural guest worker program.

Action 1.3.4: Support the revision of federal immigration policies so that they better meet the labor needs of Massachusetts farms.

Recommendation 1.4: Provide appropriate education and training for food system workers through modification, adaptation of existing resources, or development of new ones.

Action 1.4.1: Analyze the availability of hands-on training in agricultural production at the vocational high school and community college levels. Determine what kinds of investment will best meet additional needs. Increase funding and support to meet needs.

Action 1.4.2: Assess capacity of existing, current agricultural production education, and training opportunities for youth in urban and rural areas. Determine if additional training is needed.

Action 1.4.3: Evaluate available culinary training through the K-12 and higher education systems, and determine applicability or adaptability for workforce development in food manufacturing.

Action 1.4.4: Assess the efficacy of existing manufacturing training programs and assess their alignment for potential expansion(s) in commercial food manufacturing. Adapt existing training or develop new food manufacturing training as industry need and assessment indicates.

Action 1.4.5: Analyze existing supply chain management training and education offerings to determine if they are sufficient to support food system expansion needs. Address insufficiencies as needed.

Action 1.4.6: Research the applicability and relevance of existing environmental science, basic biology, and STEM programming (focused on science, technology, engineering, and math) offered through the community college and State university system. Determine how it can better support the strengthening of the food system and the education of food system workers. Implement changes as determined.

Action 1.4.7: Determine if existing food service and nutrition education training resources provide sufficient capacity, and provide a better match to worker needs, to support expansion of the role of food service professionals to prepare and serve local food within public education settings.

Action 1.4.8: Assess and modify as necessary the outreach materials (newsletters, best practices publications, technical assistance, and other items) of UMass Extension and MDAR to ensure they are optimized to meet the needs of incumbent food system workers and professionals.

Recommendation 1.5: Explore and foster the development of formal apprenticeship programming in food system businesses.

Action 1.5.1: Work with the Massachusetts Division of Apprenticeship Standards and food businesses to assess applicability of apprenticeships to meet food system occupational training and staffing needs.

Recommendation 1.6: Develop career pathways and ensure workforce education and training initiatives are available and appropriate for all workers within the food system.

Action 1.6.1: Capture and articulate existing and anticipated food system career pathways. Engage food system business partners and workforce development organizations to do so.

Action 1.6.2: Work with businesses and labor to target entry level food system workers in a wide variety of jobs (including farm workers, home health aides, school cafeteria workers, food servers, convenience and bodega store clerks, and others) for education and training that provides for pathways out of poverty and supports professional advancement.

Action 1.6.3: Regularly assess education and training needs to support professional development and advancement of workers, particularly entry-level workers in the food system. Form partnerships with food system employers to do so.

Recommendation 1.7: Market food system occupations and career pathways to diverse audiences. Make linkages between existing programming and resources populations.

Action 1.7.1: Provide transportation reimbursement for students to attend agricultural high schools.

Action 1.7.2: Coordinate and develop a pilot career pathways development effort at several comprehensive high schools.

Action 1.7.3: Link the relevant agribusiness academic and training resources at Chapter 74 Career/Vocational Technical Education schools with interested comprehensive high schools.

Action 1.7.4: Support the development of curricular connections between school gardening programming, farm to institution food service relationships, and job and career information for students at elementary and secondary levels.

Action 1.7.5: Connect immigrants and newcomers who have agricultural, fisheries, and food production skills with related occupations and additional training.

Recommendation 1.8: Support the development of strong food system businesses with full-time, year-round, and benefitted work opportunities.

Action 1.8.1: Increase availability of technical assistance to support food system business planning, viability, compliance with labor standards, effective management practices, and expansion.

Action 1.8.2: Develop and disseminate models for shared labor pools that enable full-time, benefitted employment in the food system by creating work that spans across seasons of produce and fruit. Develop training for transferable skills applicable in different sectors of the food system.

Action 1.8.3: Ensure entrepreneurship development is suited to, and reaches, interested food system entrepreneurs.

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Massachusetts Food System Collaborative