Labor force in Valley set to grow, but losses predicted in some fields

Last modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013

By 2020, state economists predict more than 11,500 new jobs will be added to Hampshire and Franklin counties’ labor force — mostly in the Valley’s traditionally strong sectors of education and health care — according to a report of anticipated local industry occupation gains and losses.

Overall, even with retirements and restaffing factored in, the labor force in Hampshire and Franklin counties is expected to increase from 94,839 employed people in 2010 to 106,375 in 2020, for a 12.2 percent increase in jobs.

The forecasting reports, Industry Projections and Occupational Projections, long-term predictions compiled by the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development for each county, are updated about every two years. The most recent projection predicts manufacturing, finance and insurance, education, and health care and social assistance will be among the industries with the largest job-gains from 2010 through 2020.

Industries expected to experience the most dramatic job declines include paper manufacturing, retail and state and local government.

Getting down to specific jobs, the occupations anticipated to see the most growth are registered nurses, teacher assistants, child-care workers, janitors and cleaners, food preparers and waitresses.

Locally, jobs that are expected to see decline include: appraisers and assessors of real estate, retail worker supervisors, postal service mail carriers, stock clerks and order fillers, highway maintenance workers, water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators, paper goods machine setters and packers and package handlers.

Robert Nakosteen, former job forecaster and University of Massachusetts Amherst Isenberg School of Management economics professor, said predictions of industry growth and decline need to be taken with a grain of salt. They rely on past job and market trends while considering anticipated changes in service and supply demands.

“The forecaster motto is, we see the future by looking at the past, and there’s some real truth to that,” Nakosteen said, “but it’s also not as simple as that.”

The true value of job forecasts, Nakosteen said, is that they foster conversations among decision-makers, investors and business leaders about where the job market is heading, how it will affect middle class workers and what influential technologies or cultural shifts are on the horizon.

And on that horizon, Nakosteen sees some dramatic, “earth-shaking” technical advances that have the potential to have a major impact on jobs: 3-D printing and advanced robotics. Both have the potential to reduce the need for human labor, he said.

“This may affect the Pioneer Valley, there’s not a large dose of this, but we do have some medical device manufacturing and it’s pretty clear that some of the more complicated things being produced could benefit from 3-D printing and that includes medical devices,” Nakosteen said. Another example of an industry that could see job losses due to 3-D printing is precision metalworking.

The development of inventions and new initiatives that led to job growth in America has slowed to a crawl. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, technology and ideology led to the establishment of the auto industry as well as the highway, telecommunication and education systems; all of which contributed to a growing work force, Nakosteen said.

“There is nothing on the horizon that even comes close to that,” he said. “We’re running out of innovations that lead to a lot of employment.”

The good news

Traditionally strong industries in the Pioneer Valley are expected to maintain their dominance through 2020: health care and education. The area’s largest employers include Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Smith College. The other top two employers in Hampshire and Franklin counties are C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. and Yankee Candle Co. Inc.

The number of jobs for health care and social assistance, ambulatory care and at hospital and nursing care facilities is expected to grow by about 26,850 jobs. The largest subset of health-care workers who will see positions added are registered nurses. The state estimates another 308 RNs will be added to the labor force by 2020 — a 20 percent increase in the number of working nurses in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, a union representing 70 percent of nurses working in Massachusetts hospitals and other acute-care facilities, said he hopes the number of registered nurse positions in the state does rise — after all, the baby boomer generation is just now entering retirement and the age of requiring more medical attention — but he’s not confident the number of nurses added will be adequate to meet health-care needs.

Citing nurse layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes taking place across the state now, Schildmeier said health-care facilities often look to hire less-educated and thus less-expensive medical staff, such as aides and licensed practical nurses.

“We know there will be a tremendous need,” he said, “but the hiring of fewer nurses, replacing them with less-qualified people — we’ve seen it before.”

In education, the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development expects Hampshire and Franklin counties will add more than 3,000 jobs over 10 years. This includes more than 500 teaching positions in kindergarten through high school and 230 teaching assistant jobs, according to the report. About 100 post-secondary teaching jobs are expected to be added as well.

Other jobs that will see exceptional growth are ones that traditionally pay low wages. The number of janitorial and cleaner jobs is expected to grow by 189 positions through 2020. The number of food prepper positions is estimated to grow by 98 positions and there will be about 74 waiter and waitressing jobs added to the jobs pool.

While job growth is a positive, the type of positions that are being created aren’t the kind to sustain a healthy middle class.

“This is a real challenge,” Nakosteen said. “There’s been a pattern over the past 15 to 20 years with more and more income in this country going to the owners of companies and less and less of it winding up with the laborer.”

The bad news

Meanwhile, state and local government agencies are bracing for loss. They are expected to lose hundreds of jobs from 2010 to 2020, largely due to the Great Recession. Government jobs include police, social workers, public works personnel, conservationists, health agents, municipal administration, among others.

Local government jobs, excluding those related to education, are forecast to decrease by 323 positions while state government offices operating locally may lose 484 positions.

The loss of government jobs can be attributed to a drop in tax revenues and an overall desire from the public for government to “tighten the belt,” said Pat Mikes, communications director for the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

“If in the private sector we’re all suffering with downsizing in the economy, people are going to want their government to be efficient with the revenue,” Mikes said.

But Nakosteen questions whether the decrease in public employees will take place at the numbers predicted by the state. At some point, he said, people will reach a limit as to how many police officers can be cut and services they’ll go without.

“You need police on the streets and government to run well. At some point those job cuts have to come to an end, so, we’ll see,” he said.

As a percentage of its workforce, no industry is expected to lose job opportunities as drastically as paper good manufacturers. The number of positions in this field is slated to decline by 324 jobs by 2020 — a 41 percent decrease in the overall paper-manufacturing job pool.

Retail is another area that is expected to see a drop in employee positions: nearly 400 by 2020. The dismal estimate was not a surprise for Alex Krogh-Grabbe, director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.

“It’s a tough economy for retail everywhere,” he said. “It’s just the continuation of the rise of the Internet and big box shopping.”

Krogh-Grabbe said the Amherst market is tight, but he’s seeing signs of improvement. Scandihoovians gift shop is moving back to Amherst. And retailers are tailoring their business to customer convenience by doing more sales online and at trade shows, he said. They’re also expanding their marketing efforts.

“You’ve got to be firing on all cylinders in the retail market these days,” Krogh-Grabbe said. “It’s tough for everyone, but there’s a lot of things you can do to adapt.”


But there are some Valley residents working in the fields where change is anticipated who are skeptical of predictions.

Christina Trinchero, a spokesperson for Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, said CDH administrators were surprised by the estimated 550 hospital positions the state estimates will be added to the area from 2010-2020. Advances in treatment and preventative health care should help reduce the number of people seeking acute medical services.

“The Affordable Care Act and health reform in Massachusetts call for population health management through which people will be healthier and those with chronic conditions will better manage their care, keeping them out of hospitals,” Trinchero said in a statement to the Gazette. “We foresee that growth in health care jobs will more likely be in non-hospital settings, especially community care management and home health.”

Cheryl Boulais, director of Meadowlark Childcare Center in Northampton, says she’s surprised to hear the number of child-care workers is expected to grow by 170 positions by the next decade. While day-care centers in Northampton always seem to be full, in other towns care providers are struggling to meet enrollment goals, she said. For example, Boulais said a friend who has been operating a day care in another town for years was barely able to cut herself a salary last year.

“And it’s looking like 2013 will be worse,” said Boulais. She noted that Northampton is unique in that most of its day-care centers run at capacity.

“If the demand is growing for child-care workers, I’m not aware of it,” she said.

And the projections also didn’t sound right to Jim Zimmerman, an operator at the Northampton Waste Water Treatment Plant. He said he finds it hard to believe the number of water treatment system workers and operators is predicted to decline, especially with the ever-growing demand for cleaner water.

“This field isn’t going anywhere soon,” he said.

Zimmerman noted, however, that the number of jobs in his field could decline by 2020 because of a lack of qualified people to staff the plants. Technical, chemical and laboratory skills are required to operate water treatment plants, he said, but he isn’t seeing a lot of interest from people with these talents going into the field.

“Right now we’re looking at, in the course of the next 10 years, a large number of operators retiring and there isn’t a large pool of people coming up to fill those vacancies,” Zimmerman said.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at


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