PITTSFIELD -- Workforce training efforts in Berkshire County took a giant leap into the 21st century labor market on Tuesday.
Local officials officially unveiled a state-of-the-art computer laboratory at Taconic High School that is designed to provide students with the technical skills that they will need to pursue careers in the growing field of advanced manufacturing.
The Intellitek LearnMate system, located in the high school's ‘s machine technology facility, contains a learning management system, virtual and hardware computerized content, activities, a design project, industrial grade equipment and simulation software.
"What we're about to do is give the students who come here 21st century skills," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. "We're going to be preparing them as young adults to go into the workforce."
PHOTO GALLERY | BCC advanced manufacturing program arrives at Taconic HS
Installed four weeks ago, the lab is being used by students and faculty at both Taconic and Berkshire Community College who are involved in the manufacturing technology program. The lab also will be utilized by workers who are already employed in manufacturing. BCC conducts its advanced manufacturing and engineering programs at Taconic.
The funding for the lab program was provided by the Massachusetts Community Colleges & Workforce Development Transformation Agendas through a $20 million grant that was awarded to the state's 15 community colleges. BCC's share of the grant funding was $153,000. Taconic was awarded an additional $100,000 in state funding toward the purchase of new equipment.
William Mulholland, BCC's vice president for community education and workforce development, said the lab includes a curriculum based on U.S. Department of Labor standards that allows students to design parts and make prototypes on a three-dimensional printer. Students then program their designs on multiple Computer Numerical Control milling and turning machines. They can then program a material-handling robot to draw the raw materials from the CNC machines, and place the finished part on a moving conveyor belt.
"It actually builds all the skills that you need, and lets students actually see simulated situations where they have to use problem solving," Mulholland said. "They're actually duplicating what they would see on a factory floor."
Mass manufacturing plants have left the Berkshires, and much of the state, for the most part. But advanced manufacturing firms, those that produce niche, or specialty, products often for a segment of a particular industry, are beginning to grow.
"The governor said that manufacturing makes up about 10 percent of the (state's) workforce, but it's No. 2 in payroll size," Mulholland said. "It exceeds hospitality and retail combined. That's significant."
He said advanced manufacturing companies use the same machines that mass manufacturers do, but they require a more highly skilled workforce to operate them.
"The governor said we can't find the people with those skills," Mulholland said. "We're going to be developing those skills in this new educational delivery system right here today."
"There's no end to the opportunity that this program provides," said BCC President Ellen Kennedy.
Michael Supranowicz, the president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said the new laboratory will allow employers to fill job vacancies with people who live in the Berkshires.
"On the business side of advanced manufacturing you need to have a toolbox that's filled with the right tools," he said. "Until today we were missing one of those tools."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: