By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- The $2 billion extension of the Green Line into Somerville and Medford is expected to bring 600 jobs to the region, but local and state officials said Monday that the project offers an opportunity to not just improve transit access and facilitate business development, but to prepare the next generation of transportation workers.
With Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan in Boston for a conference, MassDOT General Manager Beverly Scott, Education Secretary Matthew Malone and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone attended an event at the Omni Parker House in downtown Boston to highlight an initiative launched this summer to begin training local workers for jobs on the Green Line extension project and after.
The Massachusetts Workforce Initiative Now is a collaboration between the cities of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford, contractor White, Skanska & Kiewit, Bunker Hill Community College and multiple community groups to identify and train workers for careers in transportation through partnerships with existing technical schools, industry training programs and community organizations. It was modeled after a similar program started in Denver.
"We have done a terrible job in developing the workforce needed to keep America moving," said Scott, referring to not just Massachusetts, but the country as a whole. Scott said 915 employees are retirement eligible at the MBTA out of roughly 6,200 employees, a number that is expected to swell to more than 1,800 in five years.
Trumpeting the MassWIN program, Scott said, "It just don't get any better than this. What do the kids say? We're going to work it out."
Malone also highlighted the state's effort to launch in 2015 a "trans STEM" program to begin preparing high school students at Madison Park High School in Roxbury for careers in transportation. He said, "Parents are going to be pulling their hair out saying, 'How do I get my kid in?'"
Leo Ryan, the project manager of the Green Line extension for White, Skanska & Kiewit, said he is looking forward to hiring, training, and retaining workers who move through the MassWIN program. At the conclusion of his remarks, he offered to help one young man in the audience looking to become an electrician meet his career goals, and suggested the two talk after the event.
McMillan said the success of programs like MassWIN will depend on the "commitment you are seeing on the ground" from local stakeholders. The Obama administration, McMillan said, is focused on trying to help states and regions with major transportation projects "knit together" efforts already underway within the education, transportation and labor communities to train the skilled workforce needed for highway and public transit work.
Congress before its recess approved a $10.8 billion authorization to keep transportation funding from the highway trust fund flowing to states through May, but failed to reach a long-term transportation funding agreement.
McMillan said the White House's Grow America Act includes $20 million for workforce training programs similar to MassWIN, and compared the short-term spending bill to coming up for air in the middle of the ocean.
"The patch was breaking the surface and literally keeping us from drowning, but we are still far from land and have to swim," McMillan said.