Mayor Linda Tyer said the program will address the changes to the local labor market.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There are currently 127 available manufacturing jobs in Berkshire County averaging annual salaries of more than $55,000, according to Interprint CEO Peter Stasiowski.
But there aren't enough workers in the area with the skills needed to fill those vacancies. The state has now allocated $138,000 to the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board to train workers to fill those jobs.
"We know the importance of growing our own," Stasiowski said.
According to Stasiowski, manufacturing makes up 8 percent of the Berkshires' economy and employees some 5,000 workers. The new training opportunities will deepen the pool of qualified workers, and ultimately strengthen that sector.
"Manufacturing is strong here in the Berkshires. There are jobs and there are career ladder opportunities and we want to connect those skilled individuals with opportunities," he said.
According to BCREB Executive Director Heather Boulger, some 66 workers in the region can apply for an array of free classes taught by teachers at Taconic High School and McCann Technical School. The classes range from Level 1 and Level 2 basic manufacturing classes, which include machining paper and pulp and workforce readiness, to hoisting certificates, to computers, to welding.
"Once we do a great job of showing that we have our act together with all of our partners, this will provide us with an opportunity for up to two more years of funding to train additional people," Boulger said.
The organization is accepting applications for classes that begin in just a few weeks: classes start on Feb. 23 in North Adams and on Feb. 24 in Pittsfield. The focus of the training is to get certificates into the hands of those who are just out of high school or approaching graduation, those looking to advance in current manufacturing jobs, and non-traditional manufacturing workers such as veterans, women, minorities and persons with disabilities.
"This training is timely and critical for our workers, our companies, and this community," said Mayor Linda Tyer said.
The mayor said the program addresses a change in the Berkshire County demographics. The rural county is seeing population decline particularly with younger workers, a slowing labor force, and a growing population of people with less educational attainment.
"The last decade has really brought dramatic transformation to the Berkshire County economy. There are profound implications for our workforce," Tyer said.
"We live in a knowledge-based economy and the main engine of economic growth in a knowledge-based economy is the human mind. While this economy has generated tremendous wealth and continues to provide us with opportunities in Berkshire County, it has also sharpened the disparity — the economic disparity between the educated and the undereducated, between urban and rural areas."
This program will address the issue of underskilled workers, helping businesses, the community, and the employment pool, she said. Companies will be stronger with a more skilled and consistent workforce, it will give more workers access to careers, and the community will ultimately reap benefits of a stronger economy, Tyer said.
"This is much more than getting their first job. It is a gateway to a career," said William Mulholland, vice president for community education and workforce for Berkshire Community College.
BCREB is partnering with BCC, McCann, Taconic, BerkshireWorks, and about a half-dozen local companies to oversee the training. The end goal is to get those 66 workers in career positions or advance those currently working in the field.
"We really want to make sure we have a diverse workforce in our manufacturing field," Boulger said.
The grant was announced in December and the employment board developed the specifics of the training to meet the regional needs.
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