How to help Bostonians get better jobs - without alienating private business

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There's a pressing need for jobs for Boston residents. Many are either unemployed, underemployed, or underpaid, according to many indicators. The two mayoral candidates, Melvin H. King and Raymond L. Flynn, have said jobs are a top priority. Both candidates say at least 75 percent of the jobs in Boston with salaries above $15,000 go to non-Boston residents. In addition, one in every five Bostonians is living below the poverty line, according to a government report.

Yet the number of jobs in Boston has been and is expanding rapidly. About 83, 000 jobs will be added in this decade. These will come primarily in the blossoming service sector - in financial institutions, insurance companies, and hotels. Many of these new jobs will be low-level, dead-end jobs with low pay, minimal training, and little hope for promotion.

Compounding that problem is the fact that minorities here are severely underemployed.

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So the question, it seems, is not simply one of bringing new jobs to Boston. The problem that must be addressed is the quality of jobs available to Bostonians. That's one of the conclusions reached by Peter B. Doeringer, who recently studied the Boston job market.

Dr. Doeringer is director of the Institute for Employment Policy at Boston University. He found that there is a fundamental imbalance in the way Boston's growing job market is structured.

Although there is a growing number of high-level, high-wage jobs, most of them are going to suburbanites who commute to Boston to work. By contrast, during the last decade most of the low-level jobs have been going to Bostonians, he says. And the imbalance is tougest on minorities.

To help change this imbalance, the city has taken one step that has proved very controversial. In 1979 Mayor Kevin H. White announced a jobs plan to require that Boston residents be hired for many construction projects. On any project receiving even one penny of public support, the developer is required to hire Boston residents to supply half the work force. In addition, one-fourth of the employees must be minorities, and 10 percent women.

Paul Grogan, director of Boston's Neighborhood Development and Employment Agency (NDEA), says that the plan was developed to break the cycle of ''poor Boston, rich suburbs.'' As a result of the program, he says, millions of dollars are being pumped into Boston's neighborhoods.

But the hiring plan has not met universal approval. Initially, labor unions and construction companies said the plan was unconstitutional and challenged it in court. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed, but the city appealed the case to the US Supreme Court and won.

Still, to many, the residency-hiring requirement looks like a case of the government working against the interests of business. Doeringer says the policy is a bad one. He says it could become a real deterrent to business. And he wonders how such a program ever could be adequately enforced.

While the program does pose some serious questions, the NDEA is trying to make it work. The agency wants to establish programs to train residents, minorities, and women in skilled and semiskilled construction jobs. And to ensure that the hiring quotas can be met, the NDEA is establishing a ''skills bank'' - a listing of city residents with certain skills. If contractors need to hire, say, 50 electricians, the NDEA wants to make sure that they can locate them.

Doeringer says there are several other ways to approach the Boston jobs problem.

First, he says, the city administration should be a ''model'' employer for demonstrating how to hire, train, and advance the hard to employ. Currently, he says, it is not. For instance, citing a survey conducted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Doeringer says that in 1980 only 12 percent of the city's work force was black. According to the 1980 census, blacks account for more than 22 percent of the city population.

Second, he says, affirmative-action programs deserve more emphasis. Such programs actively seek to place minorities and women in jobs. Doeringer says there are many companies that have career ladders, but minorities and women often don't have the opportunity to climb.

Further, he says, Boston should try to attract companies that create career-type opportunities. This is very difficult, he says, because generally it's not a question of one industry having more dead-end jobs than another - it's a question of the approach each company within different industries chooses to take.

For instance, one bank may operate a great training program and regularly move workers up the career ladder, while another may lock people into jobs and hire from outside the company when higher-level jobs open up. The long-term challenge, Doeringer says, is to encourage employers to rethink their employment policies.

He says there's too much emphasis on formal education and training programs. He would like to see employers more willing to establish in-house training programs to meet their companies' growing needs.

Doeringer says many companies already have a sincere desire to perform some community service - a natural channel for better, more practical job training. The city, he says, can work closely with the business community to promote a broader range of employment and training practices.

There is some concern about whether either of the two neighborhood-oriented mayoral candidates will be able to foster a constructive relationship with city businesses. If they are at all committed to helping Boston residents get better, well-paying jobs, that's just what they'll have to do.

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