Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Training Grant to develop skilled manufacturing workforce

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PITTSFIELD — Manufacturing may not be as prevalent in the Berkshires as it once was, but it still offers a lucrative career path.

Employees in the county's fifth largest industry receive benefits and wages that on average are 23 percent higher than workers in other sectors. The average salary for Berkshire manufacturing workers is more than $54,500 per year.

The problem locally has been finding employees with the right skills to fill those positions.

Local officials on Tuesday announced the Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Training Grant program, a $138,000 state-funded initiative that will enable the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board to develop a skilled workforce for local manufacturing jobs.

"That's a significant investment," said Heather Boulger, BCREB's executive director, speaking at a news conference at Interprint Inc.

A total of 66 unemployed and underemployed workers will be trained in the initial phase of this six-month program, which begins in North Adams and Pittsfield later this month. The goal is 70 percent job placement.

If the program lives up to its potential, BCREB will be given the opportunity to receive two more years of funding, Boulger said.

"We know in Berkshire County that the main challenges facing our companies are a shortage of highly skilled workers, the retention of our younger workforce, and the pressure to find replacements for what's anticipated with the baby boomers retiring opening up a lot of job opportunities," she said.

"We have to make that knowledge transfer happen, and we have to make it happen soon."

The program is funded by the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development through a $1.5 million advanced training manufacturing program that the Baker-Polito Administration awarded to 10 workforce development teams across the state last month.

The Berkshire program was developed with the assistance of eight partners that include local manufacturing concerns, educational institutions, and workforce development organizations. The program's industry coordinator is BCRB employee Sara Milano.

Those eligible for the program include students about to graduate and recent high school grads who wish they had taken a vocational track; unemployed and under-employed workers who want to work in manufacturing, and incumbent workers interested in developing career paths.

Military veterans, women, minorities, and English speakers of other languages are encouraged to apply. Applicants must be at least 18 years old.

Those accepted into the program will receive Level I and Level II certifications based on the Massachusetts Advancement Center's Workforce Innovation Collaborative framework. The focus will be on basic manufacturing, CNC machining, paper/pulp and workforce readiness skills.

Level II training is for current manufacturing employees. Job development and career counseling components will also be included.

Level I training begins in North Adams on Feb. 23 and in Pittsfield on Feb. 24. Level II training takes place in Pittsfield beginning on March 1. Applications can be obtained at BCREB.com.

Hoisting training will be provided in Pittsfield, and welding training in North Adams at a time and date to be determined.

Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer said the program is "timely" and "critical" for the Berkshire region because it will have an impact on business, employment and the community.

"The population is aging and an increasing number of labor market entrants will come from groups that traditionally have received less education," Tyer said. "Now, more than ever enhancing the skills of our workforce is critical for ensuring a productive and secure future for all Berkshire residents."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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