Berkshire Business Outlook: BerkshireWorks, Employment Board can help job-seekers, companies

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PITTSFIELD — When a local company is closing or laying off employees they need to notify someone for assistance.

That first call for help — for both employers and for the soon to be unemployed — is often to the BerkshireWorks Career Center and the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. These organizations can direct assistance from the state Department of Career Services' Rapid Response Team.

The Rapid Response Team has been active here in recent years, and is the most important service the regional employment board can offer when large-scale layoffs occur, said BCREB's Executive Director Heather Boulger.

She said the team of specialists in employment-related areas can respond directly to the workplace and provide information on jobless benefits for those who have lost their jobs. The team can also provide health care options for the unemployed, along with job training or education options and a range of other services.

The Rapid Response Team played a key role following the abrupt closing of the former North Adams Regional Hospital in 2014, which caused the largest Berkshire County employment upheaval in recent years.

Boulger said 500 people were suddenly out of work that March, which prompted an emergency response by the team, along with local, state and federal officials. A core of about 50 former employees required long-term assistance through one or more employment or training programs, she said.

Other Berkshire companies have recently or experienced large-scale layoffs — 265 employees from 12 local companies have lost their jobs since May 2015. Those numbers do not count the expected elimination of an estimated 300 jobs when Sabic Innovative Plastics closes its Pittsfield operations later this year.

Sabic announced in October that it would move its local operations to Houston, but layoff notices have yet to be given to the employees that won't be relocated. It remains unclear how many workers will transfer to other Sabic sites or find employment elsewhere in the region.

"We can help them before they decide to close as well," she said of local companies or organizations, by providing advice for both workers and the company on a range of topics.

Career training

The BerkshireWorks Career Center, which is chartered by the employment board and the city of Pittsfield and receives federal and state funding for programming, focuses on providing job opportunities and related skills training and education for those seeking a job or career advancement.

Located at 160 North St. in Pittsfield, BerkshireWorks offers a wide range of resources and services that are available to all county residents. They can be accessed the Pittsfield office, in North Adams one day per week, or online at http://berkshireworks.org. The center office can be reached at 413-499-2220.

Services include extensive job listings from throughout the region, news of employment-related events with an extensive calendar listing, and programs benefiting displaced or low-income workers, veterans, youth or other residents.

An average of just under 200 jobs are listed by BerkshireWorks on any given day. But officials also point to Massachusetts JobQuest statistics that show hundreds of jobs in the area go unfilled because employers can't find enough job-seekers with the right skills.

Statistics on the JobQuest site — https://jobquest.detma.org/JobQuest/Default.aspx — show more than 2,000 jobs have gone unfilled in the Berkshire region, according to Boulger.

BerkshireWorks also has programs available that allow for job seekers to search or apply for positions online. Other initiatives allow job seekers to work on their resumes, receive counseling or advice on how to submit an application, and learn what employers are looking for during interviews.

One ongoing program is the Job Club, said Melanie Gelaznik, program operations manager at BerkshireWorks. It involves regular events with career consultant Millie Calesky, who discusses various topics concerning job searches and those looking for a career change.

Job Club sessions are now also held periodically at North Adams City Hall. BerkshireWorks staffers are available in North Adams on Mondays offering services that include resume critiques, interview preparation, career counseling and online job application assistance.

Another program is aimed at young parents between the ages of 16 and 25 who lack a high school diploma. It helps them acquire a HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) diploma.

Through BerkshireWorks, young people can also receive 100-hour summer internships with local companies or organizations, Gelaznik said.

A program for adults helps employers fund workers while they are trained on the job, allowing them to receive a paycheck as they learn skills required for their position.

During the period from July 1 through Feb. 1, Gelaznik said 1,943 job-seekers came to the Pittsfield center while many others accessed listings or services online.

Noting the high number of unfilled jobs, local officials have consistently noted the gap between those seek employment and the skills employers are seeking for manufacturing and a number of other jobs. An overall objective of the employment board is to meet the needs of regional employers by providing targeted training for area residents.

Boulger said an example involves a $138,000 state Advanced Manufacturing Training Grant program recently announced to help a skilled workforce for local manufacturing jobs.

A total of 66 unemployed and underemployed workers will be trained in the initial phase of a six-month program.

Another training program, Boulger said, has been funded through a $350,000 grant to train Certified Nurse Assistants, or CNAs, and that has served 125 people in the county.

A similar allocation of $200,000 to train additional residents to obtain a CNA certificate is possible, she said.

More information on BCREB is available at www.berkshirereb.org.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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