On Thursday night, I was invited to speak to members of the Littleton Job Seekers at a Town Hall forum held at the Reuben Hoar public library in Littleton. I was invited by Cindy Filipe, a Hudson resident and friend who works at the Littleton library. When I met Cindy a few years ago, she was unemployed and we met to discuss employment opportunities in the region. When Cindy found work, she set out to help others find a job by creating the Littleton Job Seekers, an organization that provides networking opportunities, job search techniques and leads.
The town hall meeting drew over 60 professionals, mostly in their 50s and early 60s from all over Metrowest and Central Mass trying to find their way in the post-Great Recession global economy. The dialogue at the meeting was excellent, and reflected a great deal of energy from the Littleton Job Seekers to find gainful employment, and an enthusiasm to share their ideas about what government and the private sector should be doing to help more people become re-employed.
While the people in the audience seemed fairly non-partisan, there were many comments about companies laying people off while their reserves and profits continued to skyrocket, anger over age discrimination by employers, both in terms of why people were fired, and why they had been unsuccessful at finding another job, and even suggestions about requiring companies to hire a certain percentage of older workers. It made me realize that despite the generally strong economy in Metrowest, there are still a lot of people hurting out there, and government needs to be both more innovative and resourceful in connecting people to good quality jobs.
Some of the specific ideas that the some of the Littleton Job Seekers suggested:
- Government should more closely scrutinize age discrimination by employers, and take stronger action to eliminate the practice
- Require all public universities to have more robust job counseling services, including additional staff
- Create incentives for companies to encourage hiring older workers.
- Job fairs need to be better organized, with clear standards about the attending employers actually having jobs to offer
- The government should provide grants to help unemployed professionals earn graduate degrees.
- Reform the unemployment system to allow individuals collecting unemployment benefits to work more in order to maintain their standard of living while seeking a full-time job.
- Lower the age eligibility to 50 to qualify for the UMass program that allows older workers to attend classes for free.
Many baby boomers have experienced difficulty finding gainful employment since the beginning of the economic recession. I believe that state and federal government need to work more closely together to improve the function of our unemployment system and better connect older workers with the skills and education they need through workforce training programs and classes offered at our public universities.
The Town Hall meeting brought forward some excellent ideas to consider as the discussion on Beacon Hill about reforming our state’s unemployment system begins this fall. I hope both the Legislature and Governor Patrick remain focused on reducing unemployment that continues to hover at 7% in Massachusetts, and I’m interested to hear substantive, thoughtful ideas from candidates for statewide election in 2014 on how to tackle this pressing issue.