Former Mayor Marty Walsh touted millions in U.S. Department of Labor grants that will be used to bolster apprenticeships and entry-level job opportunities in life sciences and other growing industries in Greater Boston. .

Walsh, now U.S. Labor Secretary, urged employers to reach out to workers of color and people without a clear path to college.

“There’s been a big push in this country for probably 25 years [to] going to college…and we lost a lot of ability in construction and other places where people weren’t going. Now we are paying the price,” Walsh said Wednesday during a virtual roundtable hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “We see learning as an opportunity to do both.”

Department of Labor grants could help Boston close its racial wealth gap, a persistent problem for the city, he said. The median net worth of a white family is $247,500, while the median net worth of a black family is only $8. according to a 2015 analysis of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the racial wealth gap across the country that has already widened for 50 years; the median family wealth of whites is about four times that of Latinos or Hispanics and three times that of blacks, with race and socioeconomic status playing a key role in upward mobility, according to new data from the Brookings Institution.

Boston is experiencing a “growth explosion” in job creation, with about 41 million square feet of life sciences space in the city so far and about 23 million more square feet expected to be built in the over the next two years, creating another 40,000 new jobs for the city, according to Massachusetts Life Sciences Center President and CEO Kenneth Turner.

“When I talk to my colleagues in the private sector, to [pharmaceutical companies] Takeda, Sanofi or BMS or whoever it is, they all recognize that we need to really think differently about our talent pool,” Turner said. “This is a chance for us to change the face of the life sciences workforce. How about reaching neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester or Mattapan? What about gateway cities like Lawrence or Lowell? It’s the new job. »

Boston is in a hectic time of job creation, at least in the life sciences sector, without a workforce to fill those jobs, Bunker Hill Community College President Eddinger said.

“As far as the expectations of students are concerned, they are entitled to expect that if they come to train with us, they will have a job. That should be our promise,” Eddinger said. “The question would be, what will it take to get a student in by paying them enough or supporting them enough that they can come out the other end to meet the jobs that are being created?”

The $8 million funding for Greater Boston, part of a national grant program distributing $121 million nationwide, will be split between $3 million for the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation of Boston , an umbrella organization that funds local job stability and housing organizations, and the Jobs for the Future group, which will receive $5 million for workforce development.

The funds will go to individual organizations working in various fields, including an emergency medical technician program in partnership with the city and Bunker Hill Community College, according to Eddinger.

“It’s already happening,” Eddinger said. “It’s in play right now.”

Funds were allocated in four categories: creating state apprenticeship programs, ensuring equity in pathways to apprenticeship programs, expanding existing youth programs, and creating “hubs” to provide jobs in “fast-growing industries and occupations,” according to a Department of Labor press release.

According Brooking. “Systemic racism is built into our economy and is contrary to a society where everyone should have an equal chance at economic mobility,” researchers wrote in a recent essay who cites systemic barriers, such as underfunded schools with less experienced teachers.

“We have to think about stable, affordable public transit, good schools, housing prices,” Turner said. “We tend to think about these things in isolation, and we have conversations about parts, but I think we need to have the political vision to think more holistically about how we’re going to prepare this workforce. works through the entire package. , including congestion, transportation, affordable housing. We need to be more comprehensive. »

Employers have a responsibility to review and change work environments to become more friendly to people of color and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, said Boston Chief Equity Officer Karily Crockett.

“A good job alone won’t close the racial wealth gap, but workplace inequality is a significant contributor to the wealth divide,” Crockett said. “We are at a time when we are making a new commitment to how we plan to invest in workers at every stage of their careers.”