Nurturing the City’s Workforce: A Lesser-known Side of the BRA
By Katie Liesener
While the BRA attracts attention (positive and negative) for its role in the brick-and-mortar development of our city, a lesser-known affiliate within the BRA handles another side of Boston’s development: the landscape of workforce development and economic opportunity.
The Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (OWD) spends its days tackling questions like: What good jobs are going unfilled? Which residents need these jobs badly? And what skills do they need to get there?
The answers to these questions steer the work we do at the OWD. A major component of that work is channeling funds for workforce development to effective nonprofits. These are community-based organizations that provide disadvantaged workers with the keys to economic advancement: English language classes, apprenticeships, job training, education, and career services. The OWD also houses programs of its own, such as YOU Boston, which helps high-risk and court-involved youth develop the necessary skills to secure productive employment.
In many ways, this work is intimately connected with the work of the BRA. The commercial development that the BRA stewards brings new jobs to the city. And large-scale developers must pay fees into the city’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust, which the OWD disperses to job training programs and, most recently, to tuition-free community college. In these ways, Boston’s growing skyline grows our capacity to create an inclusive workforce.
Yet, unlike the activities of the BRA, the OWD’s work is not as immediately visible. When it comes to physical development, it’s easy to see the gaps, the unused land, the empty lots, awaiting their potential. The gaps in human capital, which is to say, human possibility, are often not as dramatically apparent. But they are just as crucial.
Work is not just an economic consideration. It’s how we spend our lives. Work is connected to dignity and self-worth, the ability to take care of one’s family, to set goals and realistically pursue them, and to participate in a wider community of strivers and doers.
Our challenge is to connect people in need of life-changing work to the industries and opportunities that can make that happen. We don’t just toss people and job openings together. We explicitly seek to connect residents to living-wage jobs. Jobs that are sustainable. Jobs with opportunity for growth and advancement.
These efforts can change the city’s landscape. When YOU Boston helps re-direct a young man from a life of crime to a life of productivity, that change has ripple effects. Taxpayers save on the costs of incarceration. His neighborhood is spared the costs of crime. His employer gains a productive worker. The economy gains a participant. The community gains a taxpayer. His children can someday grow up in economic stability, and the cycle of poverty and violence can be broken.
Multiply these effects, to a greater or lesser degree, across the thousands of residents served by OWD-run and OWD-funded programs each year, and you can start to visualize that other cityscape: A Boston in which individuals walk taller and our collective aspirations rise ever higher.
Katie Liesener is the Project & Policy Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development.