Natick: Shortage of human services workers on the horizon

Brian Benson
MetroWest Daily News
April 7, 2017

Local lawmakers pledged Friday to continue efforts to support human services workers as they recognized their importance and the need to attract more people to those careers.

They “have some of the most difficult and demanding work in the commonwealth,” state Rep. Chris Walsh, D-Framingham, said at the MetroWest Human Services Advocacy Coalition’s annual legislative breakfast at the Natick Elks. “It is also one of the poorest paid, least recognized types of work that’s out there. I think we need to stand this particular paradigm on its head.”

The breakfast comes after a report from the Providers’ Council found that the human services industry will likely need to fill 24,000 to 25,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2024, and many of those jobs will likely be lower paying positions such as home health and personal care aides. The number of elderly and disabled people is growing, increasing demand for human services.

Staffing shortages hamper organizations’ ability to respond to changing and growing needs, and increase the likelihood clients will experience delays in receiving services, according to the report.

Meanwhile, organizations are struggling to fill open positions now. At Framingham-based Advocates, for example, there are about 200 openings, President and CEO Diane Gould said after the breakfast.

Gould said many workers at organizations such as hers, which receives state funding to help provide services, move on to higher-paying jobs at state agencies. One bill would give organizations more funding so they can pay their workers the same amount as comparable state workers earn.

Other bills highlighted at the breakfast look to create more health insurance options for employers and employees and help some human services workers repay higher education loans.

“If we don’t pay more attention to this, we’re going to have a significant shortage in this area,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin.