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Rethink the approach to workforce development

I ran across an article today about a new training program at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, MA. BCC offers the program in conjunction with Wayfair, located in nearby Boston. BCC and Wayfair position the program as a “specialized training program” for customer service representatives. People who enroll in the program will receive the training they need to work at Wayfair. This is precisely why community colleges need to get out of the workforce development business when it involves providing training for low-wage employers.

Although the program promises “free tuition,” it delivers a month-long training that includes computer keyboarding, communication, and administrative skills. The class does not cost the participant anything, and the result is that Wayfair will hire those individuals who complete the program into customer service positions that pay $16.85 per hour.

Which is about $1.00 per hour shy of the living wage a single person with no dependents needs to live in Berkshire County. On a monthly basis, the loss is about $160.

“Here. Take free “classes” at a community college so you can take a job that pays you $160 less than you need every month.”

According to its latest filings with the SEC, the company generates revenue to the tune of about $750,000 per employee per year. Wayfair paid its “Chief Commercial Officer” more than $13M. (That’s $6,537 per hour, if you are wondering.) Its former Chief Product and Marketing Officer made just as much. Wayfair paid its Chief Operating Officer $6.8M per year ($3,286 per hour.) To be fair, most of this compensation was in the form of equity in the company.

Workforce development should not drive workers into poverty

The company’s stock price at the close of trading today was $36.78 per share. That sounds nice until you realize that Wayfair’s stock traded at $343.68 in March 2021. That is a 90% loss in value. Cash-wise, the company lost $283M and more than a million customers last quarter.

So, what does this have to do with workforce development? Berkshire Community College, the City of Pittsfield and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are devoting financial resources to a flailing private company. Like most so-called workforce development “partnerships” a company wants to accrue a benefit and the taxpayers get to shoulder the bill – even when the company is teetering on the edge of a collapse. The company wants to “partner” with a community college to lure unsuspecting “students” into a training program for a job with a financially unstable company that commits them to chronic income issues. Meanwhile, it compensates its executives like there is no tomorrow.

That may be true for Wayfair, but the taxpayers do not need to come along for the ride.

Photo Credit: Jernej Furman , via Flickr