Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Paula Paris

USA • Deputy Director, JFYNetWorks, Boston

MMHS '79

Putting People to Work: Local, Sustainable Workforce Development

Paula Paris, MMHS '79, is encouraged by President Obama's call for renewed focus on innovation and education to secure the country's future. But, she says, it's just the beginning.

Spring 2011

Workforce development, as a national policy issue, is lacking focus and momentum, says Paula Paris, MMHS'79, deputy director of JFYNetWorks (formerly Jobs for Youth) in Boston. Paris was most likely encouraged by President Obama's State of the Union address this past January that called for renewed focus on innovation and education to secure the country's economic future. However, she says, it's just the beginning.

"The scale of what needs to be done is huge. There has been a lot of finger pointing about whose responsibility it is, but it's not realistic to expect either government or the private sector alone to solve the problem."

According to Paris, this is where JFY excels, bringing together education, government and industry to form a network that provides competency-based training and, more importantly, jobs in emerging fields.

One such initiative is JFY's Green Jobs program. Fueled by state and federal funding, the program offers intensive skill training courses that lead to employment in environmental cleanup and energy efficiency. In Massachusetts, green jobs are on the rise. However, the state's education system hasn't kept pace in providing people with the skills needed for this work, especially in math and science. JFY's students are typically unemployed older youth and low-skilled adults who have been displaced from the state's declining industries. It is a population particularly vulnerable in the current economic climate. Jobs are becoming increasingly technical, notes Paris, which makes it nearly impossible for an unskilled person to apply.

"We're experiencing a sea change," says Paris, who is also an adjunct faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University's School of Community Economic Development and current president of the Heller School's alumni board. "We're at a point in society when a lot of jobs and methods are becoming obsolete, and there aren't a lot of jobs now that don't require some education beyond high school."

Over the past 15 years, JFY's environmental technology training program has placed more than 350 environmental technicians in well-paid, mid-skilled jobs. And despite the national jobs crisis, the trend continues. Environmental technology is a vast and growing field that spans air quality, water and wastewater, emergency response, energy conservation, safety and health, natural resources and waste management. It includes many technical jobs that require specific certifications but not necessarily a four-year college degree.

"Job placement remains steady," says Paris, who is confident that there will be enough openings for the spring graduates as well. After all, toxins and hazardous materials need to be removed, remediated and responsibly disposed of regardless of the state of the economy, says Paris.

"The industries we work with can't be exported, and the work must be done on site," adds Paris.

In response to local employer demand and the passage of some key state legislation, JFY added an energy efficiency technician training program in 2009 that prepares candidates for jobs as energy auditors, air sealers and weatherization technicians.

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