PITTSFIELD — As part of compliance with new federal requirements, proposals are being sought by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board to operate the BerkshireWorks Career Center for the next three fiscal years, beginning in July.
A request for proposals from entities eligible to operate the career center, based at 160 North St., was posted Aug. 31 on the board's website, said Executive Director Heather Boulger. She said a bidders conference is scheduled for Sept. 20 in Pittsfield.
Boulger said opening the nation's regional job training and employment centers up to new operating entities — and fresh ideas and approaches — is a mandated component of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Asked if she has an indication how many entities might enter proposals to oversee designated services within the Berkshire region, Boulger said she hasn't as yet.
"I hope we have more than one," she added. "We could also see some across the state bidding to operate some or all of the centers."
Jennifer James, undersecretary for workforce development with the state Division of Career Services, said among the types of entities now operating regional centers in the state are colleges — including the University of Massachusetts through its Donahue Institute and Middlesex Community College — as well as cities that directly operate centers as a department of local government.
Nonprofit organizations and for-profit entities also could bid on the contract, she said.
James said she and others at the state level have been working with officials from the 16 workforce regions — with more than 30 career center facilities — to implement the changes required in the federal legislation. In addition to requiring expanded services to specifically focus on veterans, the disabled and other groups, the federal requires bidding beginning this year to provide services in each region.
After a statewide plan for implementation of the act's requirements was completed in the spring, James said, the regional employment boards began preparing to send out the RFPs, which she said can be somewhat tailored to needs within the region.
Boulger said she believes about half the 16 regions have begun the process of posting RFPs.
On Nov. 4, the proposals will be forwarded to a selection committee, which is composed of board members and representatives from the city and the larger community.
There is time set aside on Dec. 1-6 for proposal presentations, if needed, and the committee will make a recommendation to the full BCREB board on Dec. 8.
The listed goal is to have new contracts in place by July 1, 2017, and Boulger said the contract would be for one year with an option to renew for two more years.
The board is made up 30 leaders from the business, government, labor, education and training and human services sectors and community organizations in the Berkshire region. The members are appointed by Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer, and the mayor and the board will decide on the next vendor of services.
The services covered under the contract of approximately $650,000 annually will include programs for adult workers, dislocated workers and youth.
The BerkshireWorks offices also are home to several state workers who perform related workforce services, such as for the unemployment insurance program.
The board oversees the development of programming offered, with a focus on the needs of local businesses and workers, and the city and its mayor — representing the largest governmental entity in the workforce region — receive the federal and state grant funding for the programming and are responsible for ensuring the funds are expended properly.
In the past, the mayor of Pittsfield also directly appointed the center executive director — currently Kenneth Demers, who was appointed in late 2014 by former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.
However, a nonprofit, Berkshire Training and Employment Inc., was set up this year to operate BerkshireWorks center. It was organized in June and registered with the state as a nonprofit corporation with a board of directors.
Demers said Monday that forming a nonprofit and naming a corporate board was done primarily to make it possible to enter a proposal under the current RFP process, and easier to apply for additional federal or private grants to enhance programming.
The former entity, Berkshire Training and Employment Program, "was previously under the city, and we had to clarify that it was an independent nonprofit," he said.
The new entity also is applying for federal 501(c)(3) tax status, Demers said.
"Nothing has changed with the operations [of the center]," he said. "In essence, we are staying the same, but now we have a board for oversight."
That is in addition to the city still acting as financial agent for the organization, Demers said, and the board being responsible for overseeing the workforce programming.
Demers said the new nonprofit "will have no inside track" in the RFP process. "It is an open procurement."
But he said the center staff has demonstrated it can do the job, and he's confident "we will put forth a good proposal."
Listed with the state Secretary of State as registered agent with the nonprofit corporation BT&E Inc. is attorney Jesse Cook-Dubin, and directors listed are Jay Sacchetti, Aziz Adjao and Richard Berti. Sacchetti is listed as president of the corporation, Adjao as treasurer and Berti as clerk.
Contacted last week, Tyer said she sees the RFP process as "a great opportunity to see if there are other organizations in our region that want to do this kind of work."
The competitive nature of the process should bring out new approaches for better serving the workforce, she said, even if the current operator receives the next contract.
The mayor said she doesn't want to comment more specifically until the RFP process has run its course. She said she's not looking for any one type of organization or entity to run the center.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
How to apply ...
Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can, in addition to attending the bidders conference, also submit questions at Info@BerkshireREB.org. The posting and related background information can be found at www.berkshirereb.org. A mandatory letter of intent is required from bidders by Oct. 7. The actual submissions are due by noon Nov. 2 at the BCREB office, 66 Allen St., Pittsfield.