by SCC Deputy Director Meridith Levy
Rooftop honey harvests, dental gear made from 3-D printers, elderberry beer brewed in a forgotten warehouse, Cuppow mason mugs sold online by unusual gadget shops . . . these are the markers of Somerville’s emerging economy tendrilously transforming the City.
Another vantage of Somerville’s new economy illuminates new stores and restaurants accessorized with brand new streets.
There is no question that Somerville is on the path of economic and job growth. Between 2005 and 2015, Somerville experienced a 24.5% growth in jobs, compared to 12.2% growth in the Metro North region, which includes 20 cities and towns north of Boston. In 2015, 25% of all Somerville jobs were in retail and restaurants.
Somerville anticipates seeing continued growth in hospitality related jobs, as well as growth in computer, health, research and development services as small firms continue to occupy newly developed space, along with the growing “maker” economy finding homes in existing, underutilized locations.
A Cohesive Workforce System
With Somerville’s trending job growth, will Somerville’s low- and moderate-income population occupy a prominent position in the City’s economic future? If we are committed to making sure Somerville continues to be the home for a socioeconomically diverse population, the answer must be a resounding, Yes. This will require a cohesive workforce system connecting key partners, dedicated resources to make sure Somerville’s workforce is properly prepared, and a named and prioritized commitment to economic inclusion.
- A connected workforce system: One of Somerville’s greatest assets is its scale and accessibility. It is not inconceivable for a low-wage worker, the mayor and a CEO of a business to be standing in the same line of the local coffee shop. This is an important moment to ignite the conversations between the stakeholders along the employment continuum to create a thriving workforce system.
Job seekers, training providers, job coaches, employers, ESOL teachers and vocational tech educators all have an important role to play in aligning their goals, and creating pathways that can effectively prepare job seekers to move into promising new jobs as Somerville’s economy grows.
- Dedicated time and resources to preparing our workers: As Somerville attracts new employers and economic opportunity expands, it’s critical that we groom a workforce prepared to apply for these jobs well in advance. Those members of the workforce most vulnerable to displacement pressures often face significant barriers to both employment, and to the training pathways toward better jobs. Establishing job readiness programming, support services and training programs scheduled to accommodate those whom face barriers requires a significant investment of time and capacity to ensure success.
- Economic inclusion: Economic inclusion can be defined as a targeted strategy to establish hiring and contract goals for employing minority, women, disabled, and local workers and businesses. A common approach to achieving economic inclusion takes place at a transactional moment, such as at the point of new development, or entering into a major contract.
Developers who benefit from public and infrastructural investment can pay back the affected communities by creating economic opportunities for local residents. This can take place in many forms. Developers, municipalities and employers can establish explicit hiring requirements or goals through contract procurement and direct hiring, with monitoring bodies to track progress over time.
Making the Connection
At SCC, we continue to shape and build our First Source Jobs Program to connect Somerville job seekers with the growing surge of jobs in Somerville. In particular, through one-on-one job coaching, we work closely with low-income residents and people who face barriers to employment to help them overcome the obstacles, and get onto a career path with opportunity for growth.
SCC focuses on job readiness support, connecting participants to supportive services with our partners, and placing people into advanced training programs and jobs.
This fall, SCC will launch a sector-specific cohort program, through which a group of 20 to 25 job seekers will enter a 40-hour program including financial literacy, leadership development, job readiness, and one-on-one job coaching. Graduates of the program will then be directed to advanced skills training or a job. Our first cohort will be geared toward hospitality and culinary training in partnership with the North Metro Regional Employment Board.
As the Somerville job market evolves, our goal is to find points of convergence between the seemingly parallel but separate tracks. Let’s tap into the enterprising spirit of our emerging economy to achieve full inclusion.
Our low-income workers, some of whom are unemployed or underemployed or travel for hours to find work, can be an important asset to Somerville’s employers, and vice versa. When a new entrepreneur, or a business moving into Somerville asks, “How can I contribute to the social equity of Somerville while helping my own business?”, there is an unambiguous answer: Connect with the local workforce in Somerville.