PITTSFIELD >> On average, there are 1,600 unfilled jobs in the Berkshires ranging from Account Manager to Wait Staff. So why are people having a hard time getting a job and on the flip side, why aren't employers finding qualified candidates?
One of the more compelling reasons may be the lack of a clear connection between skills development and an actual job in the Berkshires, especially one that leads to a self-sustaining wage. Without this connection, too many individuals enroll in education or training only to find no work or just dead end jobs that don't pay the bills.
What would help? Having one resource that makes it easy to know what skills are needed; how long it takes to acquire those skills; what the real job prospects are locally; and what to expect for salary, benefits and advancement.
Who would benefit? Young adults without advanced job skills, middle age individuals with outdated skills, immigrants and many other job seekers would surely benefit from having a clear picture of the viable career pathways in our region.
So how do we make this happen?
Health care thriving
Look at health care, which accounts for nearly 1 in 5 jobs in the county. What if a major employer such as Berkshire Health Systems coordinated a user-friendly source that explained the basic skills to be a successful certified nursing assistant, with the current wage range (divided by hospital, nursing home, and private care placements), training locations and cost, and placement rate for graduates? Convenient links to local resources such as scholarships and financial aid would strengthen the outreach effort.
Consider "Rosa," who recently immigrated to the U.S. with her family. Political unrest in her native country made it difficult to find a job, but she had always wanted to work in health care. Rosa enrolled in the Pittsfield Adult Learning Center's English as a Second Language class and at the center's suggestion, attended an orientation at the American Red Cross about becoming a CNA.
Once her English improved, she enrolled in their month-long CNA training program. Because of strong partnerships with employers, the program matched Rosa with a job at Berkshire Medical Center. A year later, she was thrilled to qualify for BMC's advanced CNA training program that helped her gain additional skills and pay.
Another employment sector that people often talk about because it traditionally provided decent-paying jobs is manufacturing. Rapidly changing technical skill requirements and the increased need for post-secondary training have made it more difficult for job seekers in this field than during the "good old days" when a manufacturing job was almost guaranteed with just a high school diploma.
What if the nearly 40 tool & die manufacturers in the county jointly created a simple guide showing how specific training of a year or less could lead to an entry level position in a manufacturing career path, much like the former Berkshire Plastics Network once offered?
Consider "Larry." A high school dropout, he wasn't sure what to do with his life. A friend told him about the Reconnect Center in Pittsfield, where a counselor helped him develop a short-term plan. The first step was getting his HiSET (formerly GED) at one of the county's free adult literacy programs. The next step was registering at BerkshireWorks where he learned about a manufacturing skills course that guaranteed graduates an interview with one or more local companies. With support from a math tutor and a job skills coach, Larry obtained his basic manufacturing skills certificate, interviewed with a local manufacturer, and started on the third shift the following week.
It's a win-win situation for Larry and his employer. Thanks to a comprehensive approach, Larry has relevant technical and soft skills, and knows his employer will help him get more training so that he can advance up a career ladder. The employer gains an employee with up-to-date technical skills who understands shift work and is positioned for success.
IT is everywhere
Another industry receiving attention these days is Information Technology. IT is increasingly part of nearly every job sector, including auto repair shops, health care, hospitality and professional services, but the link between technology skills and actual living wage jobs in the Berkshires remains vague.
Are there some employers or training providers willing to coordinate an information campaign that focuses on a viable career path in the Berkshires for computer, information management and other IT related jobs?
Imagine someone like Julie, a single parent with two children. She faced many challenges as a young mom but with hard work and dedication, she overcame drug addiction and enrolled in Berkshire Community College's Project Link transition program. With renewed confidence, she returned to BCC the following year, earning a computer programming certificate that qualified her for a full time job as an information technology support specialist at a local company.
Julie, Larry and Rosa also share one thing in common. They were enrolled in programs that connected the dots between career identification, skills acquisition and job placement, and provided on-going job-related support for up to a year.
The Berkshires has its share of challenges, but it has a proven record of successfully addressing community issues through collaborative efforts. Making it easier for job seekers to understand the viable career pathways in our region by strengthening partnerships between job skill providers and employers may be the key to attracting and retaining a vibrant labor force in the Berkshires.
Claudine Chavanne is a community planner with the Pittsfield Adult Learning Center.