Training a new generation of skilled workers key to future of state's manufacturing sector
PITTSFIELD -- The state needs to ramp up investment in workforce development programs aimed, in part, toward filling the anticipated tens of thousands of manufacturing job vacancies in Massachusetts over the next decade.
Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki on Thursday called for more state funds to boost job training from the Berkshires to Cape Cod.
"We are prepared to put our money where our mouth is ... but it's just not about the money," Bialecki said. "We also have to be thoughtful on where it should go."
He added, "We really need to amp it up in a big way."
Bialecki's remarks came during a roundtable discussion at Taconic High School with area business leaders, along with local city and education officials, on the future of manufacturing. Taconic was the backdrop for the two-hour summit because of its partnership with Berkshire Community College.
The two are collaborating on an Advanced Manufacturing Program (AMP) that resulted in the purchase of new, high-tech equipment for the manufacturing technology shop used by both Taconic and BCC students.
Installed last fall, the Intellitek Blended Automated Manufacturing Technology system can stand alone or be integrated with the high school's newer equipment. According to BCC officials, 25 college and high school students have completed the first level of AMP and begun Level 2 training.
Bialecki praised the partnership as being "ahead of the curve" in Massachusetts when it comes to collaborative job training programs.
However, more partnerships are needed to create enough skilled laborers to replace an aging Berkshire workforce, according to William Mulholland, BCC's vice president of community education and workforce development.
"We need collaboration with a capital ‘C,'" he said. "Our single largest working group is 65 and older."
According to the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a "wave of retirements" in the next 10 years will create 100,000 vacancies in the state's manufacturing sector.
In order to successfully fill those positions, manufacturers and educators need to encourage young people to enroll in job training that will lead to good paying, entry level positions.
And the encouragement must begin within one's company, according to Patricia Begrowicz, co-owner and president of Onyx Specialty Papers Inc. -- Lee's only remaining paper-based manufacturer.
"How do we sponsor some of our employees' children into these programs," she asked, "to create the next generation of workers?"
Manufacturers and educators must overcome the perception that manufacturing is dead in the Berkshires, Mulholland added. While the county lost nearly half of its manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2011, he noted manufacturing still accounts for 7.7 percent of the current workforce, slightly lower than the state figure of 7.8 percent.
Furthermore, Mulholland pointed out manufacturers are clamoring for an increase in skilled laborers to fill existing or new positions.
John Gochenaur and Cody Barber aren't sure if they will be among manufacturing's new generation. Nevertheless, the two high school juniors, who are enrolled in Taconic's manufacturing technology program, say the vocational education has been a valuable experience.
"I'm getting to work with my hands in a continuing changing field," Gochenaur told an Eagle reporter during a tour of the manufacturing shop.
Barber also likes the hands-on approach to learning by working with a modern lathe.
"This is a great starter for anyone who wants a career [in manufacturing]," he said.
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