With just a few days to go until the election, western Massachusetts participated in a national campaign Wednesday to warn about federal spending cuts to job training programs. Employment specialists and labor leaders held a news conference at an employment office in Springfield. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Nearly a dozen speakers warned that looming federal budget cuts will have a devastating impact on key employment and training programs in Massachusetts resulting in a shortage of skilled workers in fields including education, healthcare, manufacturing, construction and transportation.
William Ward, executive director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County warned there is a perfect storm approaching that consists of skills gaps, job vacancies and disinvestment in training.
Ward was joined by representatives from regional employment boards in Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties. There were also officials from the AFL-CIO and United Auto Workers union. They called on Congress to stop sequestration, the automatic across the board spending cuts that will go into effect on January 2, 2013.
The cuts will cost Massachusetts workforce development programs almost $11 million and result in 36,000 fewer people being helped, according to the National Skills Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes investment in job training.
Even before sequestration, federal spending on workforce development programs has been cut $1 billion since 2010.
The FutureWorks Career Center in Springfield was crowded Wednesday with people scanning job listings on computer screens and filling out applications. The center’s executive director Rexene Picard said roughly 7,000 people have come in looking for work in just the last three months, compared with 15,000 during all of last year. Most of the unemployed will need to learn new skills to return to work.
Patricia Crosby of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board said federal spending cuts also threaten the workforce development system.
Robert Bower, of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO , said the government should spend more, not less on employment programs
The looming automatic spending cuts are a result of the Budget Control Act, which was enacted in 2011 to increase the national debt ceiling in exchange for more than $2 trillion in federal spending cuts over the next decade.