The Massachusetts AFL-CIO: Empowering Workers through Education, Training, and Workforce Development

We’re living in a time of sweeping economic changes, particularly as the economy continues to reshape existing industries and add new ones. With its proud history of innovation and unrivaled educational assets, Massachusetts is poised to lead this economic transformation. Working together, we can build a high-road economy that focuses on innovation, productivity, quality, and skill, rather than low wages and low public investment in education and infrastructure.

We will be able to seize this opportunity only if our workers stay current with the latest skills and technologies. Lifelong education and training is essential for all workers, whether in traditional industries or emerging fields. We help workers reach their economic potential by connecting them to the education and training opportunities they need to compete in a rapidly changing economic landscape.

Through our workforce development program:

  • We bring a labor presence to the commonwealth’s workforce development system. For example, we ensure that labor leaders have seats on key boards and commissions, such as the state Workforce Training Fund Advisory Panel and the state Workforce Investment Board (where vital policy decisions are made), as well as the state’s 16 regional Workforce Investment Boards. We also provide trainings for labor representatives who serve on these boards.
  • We advocate for legislation and funding for effective workforce development. For example, in 1998, we worked with the state Legislature to create the multi-million-dollar Workforce Training Fund. In 2006, we were instrumental in passing the Workforce Solutions Act, designed to support programs that increase workers’ skills, advance families to self-sufficiency, and promote job creation and economic growth in Massachusetts through the creation of the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and other mechanisms.
  • We work with the state, employers, and local unions to provide services and training to current workers. For example, our worker training programs build partnerships among unions and employers in critical industries. We help unions and employers provide services around Adult Basic Education and English for Speakers of Other Languages. We are a member of the English Works campaign, a unique business/labor/government coalition that aims to provide high-quality English language programs to help immigrants integrate into the Massachusetts workforce. And we help our affiliated unions gain access to government, nonprofit, and private funding for a wide range of training and apprenticeship programs.
  • We work with our partners in business and government to prevent layoffs and, if layoffs do occur, to help displaced workers get the training and skills they need to prepare for their next jobs. For example, our “early warning system” spots businesses and industries at risk of layoffs, and develops strategies, where possible, to prevent layoffs and get businesses back on course. When layoffs or closures can’t be prevented, our “rapid response” services annually assist thousands of laid-off workers in need of family assistance, job counseling, and new training opportunities. We have also helped the state win millions in federal National Emergency Grants to assist displaced Massachusetts workers—for example, in 2007, we helped win a $617,515 national emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to help finance re-employment services for 930 laid-off workers at Quaker Fabric in Fall River.
  • We conduct research and analysis to identify and promote promising sectors of the state’s economy. Working with business, government, and academia, we explore new industries—such as green jobs, destination resort casinos, and biotech—and their potential for creating good jobs and reliable revenue in Massachusetts. Recently, in support of our legislative advocacy for destination resort casinos, we have drawn on studies from campuses of the University of Massachusetts, which found that a destination resort casino industry would have great potential to provide good jobs for Massachusetts workers, especially if those jobs are union jobs.
  • We partner with campuses of the University of Massachusetts to offer union leadership courses to current and emerging union leaders. Massachusetts is home to one of the best labor education systems in the nation, one that equips union leaders with the skills and knowledge to be effective labor advocates. Labor extension programs and labor studies undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered at the four UMass campuses across the state: Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell.
  • We connect young people and career changers to apprenticeship programs offered by affiliated unions. We also help unions obtain significant funding for these important apprenticeship programs. In January 2009, we helped win three Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund grant awards emphasizing apprenticeships: $499,991 to the Metropolitan Boston Building and Construction Trades Council; $475,000 to the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 369; and $323,609 for the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association to create pre-apprenticeships for Cambodian immigrants in the skilled trades with the Merrimack Valley Building Trades Council. When promising opportunities arise in new sectors and industries, we also assist our affiliated unions who are interested in designing training and apprenticeship programs tailored to these emerging sectors.