A Social Crisis

by Venture President & CEO, Mike Hyland

2021 has proven to be another year of success at Venture as we created new programs and initiatives while still managing the global pandemic and all of the logistical challenges that come with it. We have all essentially learned to live with COVID-19 and remain hopeful that we can one day truly put it behind us as people continue to be vaccinated. However, another long-standing threat continues to loom over the entire human services industry: there simply are not enough people to do this incredibly important work.

It is well known that there is now a workforce crisis in America as we deal with the pandemic. What is less well known is that this industry has had the same crisis for several years, long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19. Now, that workforce issue has ballooned into a social crisis. The safety net that so many people rely on is being threatened like it never has before. Already, too many people are unable to get the help they need because there isn’t a professional to provide those supports. And it’s getting worse.

Every day, people with disabilities and other unique needs depend on a professional network to provide them with opportunities to learn new things, access the community, socialize, and be heard, all while being kept safe. What happens when that network is disrupted? The opportunities disappear and the people who are entitled to them become detached from their communities. Their mental health and wellness suffer and their families have to find a way to keep them safe, often at the expense of working. For more than a generation, Venture and our peer agencies have seen to it that those who want and deserve an opportunity to thrive have had it. Our dedicated workforce opened doors and changed lives, and did so in virtual anonymity. Now, with fewer people to open those doors, more and more people are at risk of being left behind. So, how did we get here?

For too long, society has neither recognized nor invested in the importance and success of the work done by talented professionals at provider agencies. This workforce has been underpaid, undervalued, and overburdened for many years. Now, that lack of investment has created the crisis we face. Agencies that hold state and federal contracts need to finally be paid adequately so that our employees have a truly livable wage, affordable healthcare, access to higher education, and affordable housing. That is how we finally turn a job in human services into a career in human services. It is the only way we can keep opening doors and creating opportunities.

We can no longer wait to provide recognition and security to the committed individuals who dedicate their lives to helping others. Agencies like Venture need a viable, long-term workforce that can continue to grow the safety net that Massachusetts has always been committed to having. It is time to value the skills and dedication of people who make up this safety net by acknowledging their professionalism and paying them for it. The best way to honor all the people who show up every day to do tremendously difficult work is to finally build a system that gives them the financial security that allows them to make this work a career. These selfless people have deserved it for a very long time.