PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There are agencies, companies, and organizations throughout the county focused on workforce development. Each of them has their own set of offerings for job seekers and employers.
Donna Todd Rivers is now eyed to become the person who knows them all and gets them all on the same page.
Rivers has been hired as Berkshire County Regional Employment Board's Berkshire recruiter -- or as state Sen. Adam Hinds has dubbed it, the "workforce czar." The position was created through state funding and is intended to help tackle the issue of there being some 2,000 jobs available at any given time and an equal number of job seekers who just aren't connecting.
"There is a place employers aren't looking and a place where employees aren't looking," Rivers said.
Being a newly created job, River's first goal is to dig deeper into the issue. She's met with some 60 employers and has been talking with job seekers. She wants to know how companies are recruiting, where do they post jobs, what are they looking for, what seems to be the trouble in finding hires? She's asking similar questions to the job seekers.
Eventually, she's going to use that data to determine what programs are working in the Berkshires and which are not.
"We should probably be doing things a little less traditional," Rivers said.
She's finding that one of the biggest hold-ups for employers is candidates are often rejecting jobs because there isn't another job nearby for a spouse. Those who would like to relocate here cite that as a major reason. She'd like to develop ways to alleviate that common trouble.
Relocating spouses is one of three areas Rivers said she'll be focusing on at first. She's targeting the cohort of people who are looking to switch careers later in life and millennials with a little bit of work experience and looking to jump to the mid-level tier. Those seem to be trouble areas when it comes to those looking for work.
One interesting thing she is finding is that job seekers are often finding their jobs through an "informal network" while employers are using traditional sources to post open positions. Often those looking for work get jobs through a friend of a friend or somebody they know and she is looking to find a way to make that network more inclusive. In fact, that informal network how she learned about her new position. She said she was asked to share the job posting to the people she knows and that got her looking into it. Following trends like that will help her make stronger recommendations.
Workforce development has been a major focus for a number of companies and agencies. Rivers will be working with BerkshireWorks, placement agencies, human resource offices, education and training providers, and economic development partners to bring everybody onto the same page.
"I think a lot of people are doing great work but they are doing it in silos," Rivers said.
Rivers is now asked to serve as a "point person" for those efforts. She should be the "single point of contact" to help people learn about the options out there and will be talking with all of those employment organizations. She'll be able to find duplication of efforts and recommend what each party should focus on. She'll have a stronger idea of what types of programs are working and what types aren't and can pass that information along.
The position is funded by the state. Hinds had gotten it into the budget last year with a $75,000 allocation. The Berkshire United Way then added funds to expand it to a three-year project.
"Ms. Rivers will focus on matching local job seekers to open positions in the Berkshires, which is a critical part of our efforts to spur the local economy," Hinds said in a prepared statement. "I am excited to see her begin to engage with our employers and job seekers, and am gratified that one of my first proposals is now underway."
Rivers started the position in April. She has launched an online survey asking for input and has set up two workforce meetups for job seekers. The next is on Thursday, June 14, at 3:30 at Framework. While is is in Pittsfield, Rivers emphasized that the job will be focused on all of Berkshire County, not just Pittsfield.
Rivers expects the position to evolve with the needs of the community. She has a law degree from Western New England University School of Law and a degree from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked as a lawyer, owned and operated a business in downtown Pittsfield, and is currently a city councilor.
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