On Saturday, June 23, ACE MV celebrated its 10th anniversary with a fundraiser titled “Charting Courses” at the West Chop Club. Guests heard keynote speaker Paul Osterman, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) professor of human resources and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, present a talk, “No Economy is an Island: Skills, Training, and Economic Growth.”
In his opening remarks, Sam Hart, executive director of ACE, said that in the past few years, ACE has refocused its strategic vision. While it continues to offer enrichment courses such as cooking and Island history, it now puts more of an emphasis on continuing education for adults: “ACE has credentialed 764 working Islanders through either a professional license or a college credit or workforce training certificate in the past three and one-half years.” Several ACE graduates spoke briefly to the group, illustrating Hart’s point.
Olsen Houghton was one of 20 teachers whom ACE helped prepare for a graduate degree. He called ACE “a dream come true.” Alan Hartmann took classes from ACE to get his hoisting license, which enabled him to operate heavy equipment on the Island, and Lorena Crespo from Ecuador got her master of education degree through ACE, and will start teaching Spanish in the fall.
Paul Osterman’s remarks underscored the valuable role ACE MV plays preparing Islanders for the workforce. He began by illustrating the difference in the workforce compared with 40 or 50 years ago. Back in the ’60s, 25 percent of all workers were blue-collar; today that figure is about half that. Back then only 38 percent of women were in the labor force; today over 70 percent of women are in the labor force. And computer technology jobs were barely on the radar. So much has changed, and so, based on the past, predicting the future of the workforce remains a risky proposition.
Osterman also addressed some of the misconceptions surrounding the labor market. “People fear that in the future, computers will kill jobs,” he said. “The fact is that only 2 percent of Americans report losing jobs because of machines.” And looking forward, because of baby boomers retiring, there will be millions of jobs opening up for younger people.
Osterman indicated that there also are some real worries for the workforce, loss of loyalty being one — companies are just not willing to make a commitment to employees any more. He quoted former GE CEO Jack Welch as saying, “At the end of the day, we’re even; I don’t owe workers anything.”
Wage inequality is another huge problem. Between 1979 and 2016, the bottom 20 percent of workers saw a negative growth in real wages of -9.8 percent. The top 20 percent saw growth of 27 percent. “One-quarter of all working adults are in poverty-level jobs,” said Osterman. “It’s a huge challenge.”
Osterman believes we need to focus on developing the skills and training to provide mid-level jobs, and that’s the core mission of ACE MV. He says there are three paths to these mid-level jobs. The first is high school CTE (career and technical education) courses, the second is community colleges, and the third is called the labor market intermediary. This is where ACE MV fits in. “The local market intermediary must be locally based, trusted by employers, and trusted by the workforce,” says Osterman; “that’s the key to being successful.”
Osterman points to Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Boston as an organization ACE MV might do well to emulate. They’ve been around since the early 19th century, and today they offer courses in English as a second language, high school degree programs, and skilled job training. JVS goes to employers and helps them train employees so they can promote from within, and they provide support services for students in the event a student’s car breaks down or they need help with personal finances.
The role of the local market intermediary is even stronger on the Island than in other places, because being on an Island makes it harder to gain access to other educational institutions. “Building the intermediaries is where we want to be,” said Osterman. “We all benefit from being on-Island with a good economy, with good jobs and good skills;, we all benefit from this.”
Following Osterman’s remarks, there was a brief Q and A session, and then guests adjourned to the grounds for refreshments and hors d’oeuvres, to listen to the music of the Phil daRosa Project and to get a chance to see the new videos produced by The MV Times in conjunction with ACE MV, featuring half a dozen of the ACE course offerings.