Heather Boulger | Inside the Job Market: Summer is the perfect time to invest in training

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PITTSFIELD >> Did you know that nearly one-third of the Massachusetts labor force is over the age of 55 and will be retiring leaving a significant talent and succession gap?

Did you know that more than two-thirds of all jobs will require some post-secondary training beyond high school by 2018?

In order for the economy to thrive, our businesses need to have access to a pipeline of skilled workers so they can stay competitive, continue to grow, and create more jobs in the region. One of the best ways to achieve this is through training.

What is the importance of training in the workplace? Training allows employees to acquire new skills, sharpen existing ones, perform better, increase productivity and be better leaders. Since a company is the sum of what employees achieve individually, organizations should do everything possible to ensure that their employees perform at their peak. Better training leads to better processes and more efficient work, but more importantly, more engaged employees and a better working environment.

Company resources

The recent announcement of $197,000 in Workforce Training Fund Program (WTFP) grants for four Berkshire County companies provides a perfect opportunity to highlight the myriad of training resources available.

One hundred and fourteen Berkshire companies have received $8.5 million to train more than 8,200 employees through the WTFP. Massachusetts companies are fortunate to have resources to address business productivity and competitiveness by training current and newly hired employees. So what is available?

• Workforce Training Grant: Businesses of any size are eligible to apply for up to $250,000 as long as they contribute to the WTFP via a surcharge on unemployment insurance payments. Grant funds may be used to pay for employee training delivered by qualified training vendor of applicant's choosing and must be matched dollar-for-dollar. Training must be completed in 24 months or less.

• Express Grant: Businesses with 100 or fewer employees are eligible to apply for up to $30,000 ($3,000 per course, per trainee). Companies must contribute to the WTFP and provide 50 percent of the total cost of training. Grant funds will pay for up to 50 percent of the training courses chosen from a database of pre-qualified courses.

• Direct Access Program: Businesses of any size are eligible to enroll employees in pre-approved training without applying for a grant. A variety of courses are available on the website.

•Technical Assistance Grant: Groups of businesses partnering, individual employers or intermediaries are eligible to apply for between $5,000-$10,000. There are no deadlines. Grant funds must be matched dollar-for-dollar. Grant funds may be used for costs associated with planning for a larger WTFP grant with common training needs, customized training curricula, or assessing training needs.

• EOLWD Safety Grant Program: Companies can apply for up to $25,000 through the Department of Industrial Accidents to promote safe and healthy conditions in the workplace through training, education, and other preventative programs for employees. Visit www.mass.gov/lwd/safety.

What is funded? Projects that will result in job retention, job growth, or increased wages. Projects where training would make a difference in the company's ability to do business in Massachusetts. Projects where the applicant has made a commitment to provide significant private investment in training for the duration of the grant, and after the grant has expired.

The Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, Inc. (BCREB) can assist you in determining if your company is eligible and which program might be right for you. The applications can be found at www.commcorp.org/wtfp. The BCREB, the BerkshireWorks Career Center and Commonwealth Corporation will be hosting a WTFP informational session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 10 in Pittsfield. The session is free and lunch will be provided. Interested companies must register at www.commcorp.org/wtfp/events or by contacting Tracy Johnson at either 413 499-2220 ext. 111 or TJohnson@BerkshireWorks.org.

In today's ever changing marketplace, the importance of job training has never been greater. Workforce training is an indispensable way to keep your organization competitive while raising morale among your team members. Take advantage of the slower time of the season by conducting a needs assessment and developing a training plan for your company.

Lifelong learning resources

Education does not stop after graduation. Learning is a lifelong endeavor, whether it takes place in the classroom or in the workplace. Summer is also a great time to expand your knowledge and education, and there are many opportunities in the Berkshires ranging from employment agencies to workplace readiness classes to short-term certificate programs.

• Berkshire Community College: BCC offers a college/career navigator, certificate programs, associate degree programs, a certified nursing program, and basic skills development.

• Berkshire Enterprises: Opportunities are provided to start and operate a small business

• BerkshireWorks Career Center: The center provides work readiness training, job counseling, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and basic skills development.

• Elder Services of Berkshire County: This organization provides on-the-job training and paid employment for income eligible residents ages 55 and older

• Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires: Goodwill provides vocational evaluations, skills training, career development and job placement.

• Mass. Rehabilitation Commission: Provides support and referrals for people with physical or mental disabilities

• McCann Technical School: The North Adams-based school provides numerous post-secondary training programs.

Also, the Pittsfield Adult Learning Center, Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts provide adult literacy, basic skills development, career planning, and ESOL.

Mildred Elley provides numerous post-secondary training programs at its Pittsfield campus.

The Reconnect Center provides mentoring to help young adults age 16-24 reconnect with jobs, training and education

For contact information and to see a comprehensive list of training opportunities, visit BerkshireWorks.org/resources for the latest version of the Guide to Job & Training Programs in the Berkshires which was compiled by the Pittsfield Adult Learning Center.

Take a few hours this summer to plan your education and training opportunities. It's a good time of the year to do it.

Heather Boulger is the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board in Pittsfield.


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