BerkshireWorks Career Center's management format to change
PITTSFIELD — The management structure of the BerkshireWorks Career Center is expected to be overhauled next year, according to center Executive Director Kenneth Demers.
"We are looking at a lot of different options, talking to a lot of people," he said.
The stimulus for the change, Demers said, is the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which passed Congress in 2014 and updated the Workforce Investment Act. The legislation provides the bulk of funding for job training and related services offered through local employment centers around the country.
Essentially, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act consolidates job training programs into one funding stream and refocuses employment and training programs throughout the country. A major component requires prioritizing local workforce needs and making local boards accountable for making sure those needs are met.
Massachusetts is asking officials at the 16 regional employment centers in the state to look at their management formats and consider revisions in light of changes on the federal level.
Demers said he expects a plan for a new management format to be developed by February and believes proposals will be sought later in 2016 from entities wishing to oversee the programs.
The Berkshire County Regional Employment Board now charters Berkshire Training and Employment and BerkshireWorks, but Demers said proposals could be sought from other entities as well, such as the city of Pittsfield or a nonprofit or even for-profit private groups or organizations.
Employment centers in some of the 16 Massachusetts regions have the largest city operate the centers directly, while others have switched management to a nonprofit private entity, and some have formed a consortium with nearby employment regions.
In the Berkshires, the regional employment board — with representatives from the business community and local organizations — oversees the programming. Pittsfield's mayor, representing the largest city in the region, appoints the BerkshireWorks executive directors, and federal funding for the employment and training programs flows through the city to the programs.
Heather Boulger, executive director of the regional employment board, said the new federal legislation requires that the new career center operation entity be procured, selected and in place by December 2016. A request for proposals is expected to be issued in the spring.
Among the possible managerial formats, Demers said, are those in place in Springfield and Holyoke, which have private nonprofit operations; in Worcester, where the city directly operates the programs; and in the Franklin and Hampshire county regions, which have a consortium arrangement.
Nothing has yet been decided for Berkshire County, Demers said.
"I think there still are going to be a lot of options in terms of how it is operated," he said.
Asked about concerns of BerkshireWorks employees who contacted The Eagle recently, Demers said "it is understandable there are concerns among employees. There are a lot of changes coming down the pike."
But he said the operational details "still have to be determined."
Some financial procedure revisions already have been made at the BerkshireWorks center to meet the revised federal Department of Labor guidelines under the new legislation, he said.
The Department of Labor and the federal Department of Education also have sought input from the states on how to best implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and Department of Career Services, which monitors and reviews operations at the regional centers, said the federal changes "free up the states ... to be more flexible" in how the federal funding is spent on employment and training initiatives and is intended to spur creativity.
Gov. Charlie Baker recently outlined a "change of philosophy and a change of focus" for Massachusetts' unemployment and job training programs, Quinn said, from aspects of assisting job seekers in finding specific openings to "building relationships with employers" to determine what training employees require and provide that.
Mayor-elect Linda Tyer, who will take office in Pittsfield in January, said she has not yet been briefed on the possible changes in Berkshire employment and training programs, but she has scheduled a meeting with Boulger and board officials.
On the Web ...
Information on BerkshireWorks Career Center is available at berkshireworks.org.
The employment board website is at www.berkshirereb.org.
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