WBJ Economic Forecast: Workers will be the key to a robust economy

The pandemic has disrupted employment in the Worcester area, but better days are likely at hand, a panel of experts said at the WBJ Economic Forecast Forum webinar this morning.

In the two years since the COVID-19 shutdowns in March 2020, the pandemic has undermined all aspects of the economy with labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and shifts in the mindset of employees. As state and state economies developed robust and upward momentum, they were again halted by new variants, especially Omicron. While the new economic landscape shaped by the pandemic presents many uncertainties, it has also revealed many pre-existing vulnerabilities that need to be changed for long-term sustainability.

At WBJ’s 2022 Online Economic Forecast Forum on Tuesday, economists and panelists discussed their outlook on the economy by analyzing factors such as the number of unemployed, social factors, higher education and the manufacturing. As panelists discussed the unique challenges facing their individual fields, they all agreed that growth cannot happen without workers and a strong workforce, which has been reduced by the pandemic and an aging generation. of baby boomers who retired early in droves.

“We don’t prioritize technology or basic skills; we are people first, and we need to be in our industry because we take and develop technologies at very early research stages in academic and tech labs and turn those technologies into full-fledged commercial entities,” said said Aaron Birt, co-founder and CEO of Solvus Global on the importance of focusing on individual workers.

Birt further revealed that immigrant workers are the backbone of the manufacturing industry and that COVID travel restrictions have exacerbated labor shortage issues.

Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at UMass Amherst’s Donahue Institute, explained how difficult it is to predict the future when public health defines the economy. During the pre-pandemic world, Massachusetts established itself as a hub for knowledge-based industries such as technology and biomanufacturing that provided a strong local economy, but this growth was uneven compared to other rural sectors. of State.

This financial gap between geographies has only grown during the pandemic and has also highlighted social disparities, especially among women, people of color, and those with limited education. These populations typically work in service industries and have faced exceptionally high unemployment rates as the shutdowns have crippled their job opportunities.

“What we really found with COVID was that it was really a big indicator of social inequalities,” Melnik said.

Higher education is Worcester’s second largest industry and is a powerful driver of the local and regional economy. David Fithian, president of Clark University in Worcester, spoke about the difficult balancing act faced by employers in becoming more accessible to first-generation populations, people of color and immigrants while remaining competitive to attract a hand -talented workforce, while facing the high costs driven by inflation.