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Labor leaders call for action against cuts to job training

Date: 11/5/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Labor leaders and job developers from across the four western counties gathered at FutureWorks last week with a dire message: the proposed cuts in federally funded job training programs that could come Jan. 3, 2013, would affect long-term economic improvement.

William Ward, executive director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, called the press conference "a S.O.S. call to action."

According to a report supplied by the National Skills Coalition, the Budget Control Act passed in 2011 increased the national debt ceiling in exchange for the creation of triggers that would automatically cut more than $2 trillion in the federal budget over the next decade. Under the legislation, these cuts — known as "sequesters" — would be across the board affecting both the military budget as well as non-defense discretionary programs and would be enacted Jan. 3, 2013.

"Massachusetts's workforce development programs will be deeply impacted by these cuts. By the most conservative estimate, Massachusetts job training programs will lose $10.7 million in 2013 and will serve 36,000 fewer people. If these cuts remain in place until 2021, Massachusetts would lose $96.3 million in funding for workforce development programs and 324,000 fewer people will have access to critical education and training services," the report said.

The report added, the Aerospace Industries Association said the Commonwealth would lose 19,000 non-defense jobs from the cuts and 41,000 jobs from the defense cuts.

"We need send a message to our elected [officials] and those who can help them," Jon Weissman, coordinator of Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice said. He added that job-training programs needed to be strengthened, not cut.

Rexene Picard, executive director of FutureWorks, the one-stop employment and training centers, said the office "has never been busier. She noted that 7,000 people — an increase over last year — came to FutureWorks in its first quarter, seeking employment and training opportunities. Of that number, 92 percent were unemployed.

"Now is not the time to reduce," she said.

Ward said that with the promise of a voucher for training, people leave the career centers "with hope."

The connection people need is job training, he added.

Patricia Crosby, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board, said a "significant number [of the people in that region] come with no skills or obsolete skills."

She added that job training could quickly elevate a person's income. A person who becomes a certified nurse's aide will see an increase of 30 percent over unskilled minimum wage jobs, Crosby said.

Ronald Patenaude, president of the United Auto Workers Local 2322, said the cuts in job training would have a real impact on the early education workers his union represents. He explained the No Child Left Behind Act requires certified early childhood teachers and aides and funding is needed for the positions.

Richard Devine, director of programming for the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, looked at the impact a cutback would have on programs for inmates. He said about 50 percent of the people who are released from the House of Corrections have no marketable skills and job training helps prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.