By Laura Krantz | The MetroWest Daily News | October 19, 2012
Manufacturing is flourishing in Massachusetts, economist Barry Bluestone said Thursday, but community colleges and vocational schools should do more to prepare students for jobs in those industries.
The Northeastern University economist, at a business luncheon in Framingham, lectured on the results of a study he recently completed about the manufacturing industry, saying it is healthy and growing while other sectors in the state still suffer.
“The industry we had given up for dead is actually leading the recovery,” Bluestone said to about 75 executives in the Sheraton hotel. The talk was hosted by the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce.
Bluestone said manufacturing, which includes tech giants such as Raytheon and small bakeries and print shops, is the sixth largest employment sector in the state.
Companies in his study estimate they will hire 100,000 more employees in the coming decade, and they are increasingly looking to community colleges, vocational schools to get well-socialized workers with basic technical skills, Bluestone said.
“What we have not done a good job of is having the community colleges go out into the community and saying ‘let’s see what we can do,’” Bluestone said.
His study, Staying Power II, was conducted by Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, where he is dean.
His data showed $75,000 as the average annual earning for someone in manufacturing in Massachusetts. Earnings for unskilled employees have remained flat while the wages of skilled workers are rising, he said.
Although the state added 43 new manufacturers last year, today’s manufacturing isn’t the assembly lines that buzzed in downtown Framingham for so long. Many jobs now center around research and development of new products, many of which are produced out of state.
“There’s probably a lot less production,” Bluestone said about MetroWest after the talk. “But there’s still production going on.”
The 2012 report by the MetroWest Economic Research Center at Framingham State University found that manufacturing was the largest sector of the MetroWest economy, creating 26,600 jobs, or 15.2 percent of all employment in 2010.
That came after the industry lost more than 8,000 jobs from 2001 to 2010, MERC’s report found. Manufacturing had the largest payroll in MetroWest in 2010, at $2.8 billion.
Bluestone said that while Massachusetts has more managerial manufacturing jobs than the national average, three-fifths of the jobs in this state require less than a bachelor’s degree.
A third of the businesses surveyed said community colleges should incorporate industry standards into their curriculum or even create a certificate in manufacturing technology, Bluestone said. He said businesses reported that it is increasingly difficult to find skilled craftsmen and do most training on the job.
MassBay Community College recently announced plans for a new 160,000-square-foot campus in downtown Framingham. Spokesman Jeremy Solomon said the school can easily tailor its curriculum to meet the needs of businesseses.
“We understand the role that community colleges play in economic development,” he said. “We also understand that we need to re-focus our energies on reaching out to the businesses.”
Data for several yeas has shown the “middle skills gap” in Massachusetts and suggested technical schools as a good option for high school students who want to go right to work, said Joseph Keefe Regional Technical School Superintendent Jim Lynch.
He said Keefe Tech has added information technology and health care programs already.
“Perhaps now we’ll take another second look at the manufacturing cluster of programs,” he said.
Massachusetts offers research and development tax credits for both manufacturers and research and development companies.
“That’s where the state is having the biggest impact in helping these firms,” Bluestone said, pointing to data showing that more companies than ever are taking advantage of that incentive.
His study surveyed 696 firms and did follow-up interviews with owners or mangers at 56 firms.