NORTH ADAMS -- Attendees got a look into the complex job market on Friday at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's monthly forum.
"It wasn't that long ago if you got a GED or a high school diploma, you still got a job," said Thelma Margulies, coordinator of the Northern Berkshire Adult Basic Education Program at MCLA. "That's not true anymore."
About 80 people attended the forum at the First Baptist Church on Main Street, which had the title "Jobs and Education for a Stronger Workforce."
Discussion was focused on a changing job market and what education is essential in helping residents find employment.
"A question I am asked all the time is, ‘Where are the jobs?' " said Heather Boulger, executive director at Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. " ‘I've been looking for two years, I haven't' found anything.' There are jobs in Berkshire County. As of this morning, there are 1,422 jobs going under unfilled."
That number is smaller in North County -- 247 jobs are posted within 10 miles of North Adams, ranging from entry-level positions to nurses to project managers, she said.
And the demand is projected to increase -- Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, referred to the aging generation of baby boomers.
"Half of our manufacturing workforce will probably be retiring within five years," he said.
Attendees spoke of the importance of "soft skills" -- important attributes that enable people to communicate effectively with people.
Jennifer Civello, Williamstown Chamber of Commerce's executive director, said many business owners have told her they'd like to expand, but they have trouble finding reliable employees.
"If you can't show up on time, if you can't call me when you're sick ... then I can't give you a job and I can't grow my business," she said.
Margulies said the ABE provides workshops in basic skills, college and career readiness, and English as a second language to prepare people for the workforce.
Bill Mulholland, director of economic development at Berkshire Community College, brought up the idea of "stackable credentials." A student would start by earning certification for a trade, such as pharmacy technician, and then partner with a community college that will apply those skills to college credits.
"As you're getting the skills and job, you're working toward a degree," he said.
Michelle Racette of McCann Technical School said another route for residents could be the school's post-secondary programs. Many don't know the school offers education for adults in cosmetology, dental assisting, medical assisting, surgical technology and nursing, she said.
Eric Wilder of Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires said his organization also provides job and skill training. In addition, the "Suit Yourself" program provides free professional attire for those trying to re-enter the workforce.
"That first impression makes a lasting impression," he said.
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