The opening of a new worker assistance center in North Adams on Wednesday will be of considerable value to a city rocked by the closing of its hospital five months ago, and if it ends up staying open beyond a year, all the better. Employment in North Adams is a short-term crisis but it will be a long-term challenge in the city and the Berkshires as a whole.
Local and state officials, including state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rachel Kaprielian and state Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz, were in North Adams to elaborate upon the benefits of the center, which is funded through a grant from Ms. Kaprielian’s department. North Adams faced a tough employment situation even before the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, a problem exacerbated by the city’s relative isolation.
In remarks echoed later in a meeting at The Berkshire Eagle, the labor secretary said that finding a place in today’s workforce means accepting and embracing change. The county was slow to accept the end of the manufacturing era personified by General Electric and Sprague Electric but the realization has emerged that there is a future for small manufacturing in the region. That requires training and education in technical skills that the state, along with BerkshireWorks and local high schools and colleges, must provide.
The state’s new unemployment benefits website rolled out and fell flat last summer, but a year later, according to statistics provided at The Eagle meeting, 73 percent of first-time applicants can now file for benefits online, a percentage that exceeded expectations at this juncture, according to Ms. Kaprielian, and there has been a 60 percent decline in the waiting period between the filing of a claim and the first payment. This is encouraging news for those trying to stay afloat financially while pursuing a job.
North Adams’ economic and employment problems are particularly difficult but they are shared to one degree or another by other Berkshire communities. Willingness to adjust to changes in the job market, and the state’s help in adjusting to those changes, will enable county workers to not only deal with changing times but benefit from them.