Our Opinion: Matching right person with right county job

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What could be more frustrating than knowing about a job opportunity, having the interest and enthusiasm to take advantage of it, yet be lacking the skills required to fill the position? Or worse, what could be more more senseless than giving up on a job search because the seeker doesn't know that the right position is out there waiting?

The Massachusetts Workforce Skills Cabinet is addressing that very discrepancy by introducing an interdepartmental initiative that will work with 16 workforce boards in seven state regions that implement policies at ground level. One of these regions is composed entirely of Berkshire County, and the local effort is being coordinated by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. The elegance of the initiative stems from an interdependency of purpose: one leg of the workforce development stool will concentrate on nurturing the labor pool in a given market, a second will focus on determining the needs of commercial job providers, and the third will design training programs to prepare a suitably-skilled labor force to fill those specific needs.

Heather Boulger, executive director of the BCREB, said that in Berkshire County the various players in this program have already been working together for some time. The initiative at the state level formalizes and puts a state-level focus on this reality. Her agency, which is a non-profit, non-governmental entity, has been overseeing the development of the Berkshires' labor force. The 1Berkshire economic development team as well as the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission are charged with determining what kinds of jobs local businesses and industries need to fill. The actual skills training is done by the county's many educational institutions, from elementary schools to the area's colleges.

According to Ms. Boulger, there are currently 1,850 job openings in Berkshire County. About 45 percent are skilled jobs and 55 percent are entry-level. Some of the skills needed for these jobs require advanced training, such as engineers, computer hardware and software, and occupational therapists, registered nurses, LPNs, truck drivers, teachers and other certified occupations. Other vocational trades require some training but not licensing, such as chefs and cooks. And there is also a need for what Ms. Boulger called "soft skills," those being the ability to communicate, listen to directions and follow them, be articulate, and having a good work ethic. Local businesses, she said, are very much in need of the latter.

The ultimate goal of this program, says Ms. Boulger, is to "develop stronger pathways for (workers) to get a job so they'll stay here and raise their families." One example she cited was the entry-level health worker who, with the right training, could could advance to the level of a highly skilled medical professional.

At a time when Berkshire County is experiencing economic tribulation and its population is shrinking, it is tragically wasteful that jobs remain unfilled because the labor force may lack needed skills and awareness. This kind of initiative, one that squeezes the most benefit from resources Berkshire County already has, is a textbook example of the most efficient way to use our tax dollars.


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