PHOTO GALLERY | Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Grant's welding program

NORTH ADAMS Jacob Hotson spent 17 years working at a stone quarry before he was laid off in January. While collecting unemployment, he came across a welding program at the BerkshireWorks Career Center that "very much caught my eye."

On Wednesday, the Otis resident was one of 11 men ranging in age from 20 to 40 who gathered at McCann Technical School to receive certificates signifying them as graduates of the Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Grant's welding program. All of the training took place at McCann.

"I thought it would be handy to know how to do that," said Hotson, 39. who had never welded before. "I figured there were companies in the area that were looking for welders, which in my understanding is why they offered a course. I jumped on it. Apparently, I'm pretty good at it."

Program graduates completed 85 hours of training, funded through part of a $138,000 state grant awarded to the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, which operates the BerkshireWorks Career Center.

This is the second state training grant that the board has received from the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. A class trained in advanced manufacturing techniques graduated last year, according to training instructor Sara Milano. The welding class contained all men, but a woman graduated from last year's advanced manufacturing program.

Other trainings include Level 1 certification based on the Massachusetts Advancement Center's Workforce Innovation Collaborative framework that includes wastewater management; lean technologies (methods that are used to eliminate waste in the manufacturing system); paper and pulp; and steam engineering.

The program's purpose is to support the education and training that individuals with entry-level skills need to enter and/or advance in the county's advanced manufacturing workforce.

Manufacturing isn't what it once was in the Berkshires, but it's still the county's fourth largest job sector and contains wages that are higher than some positions in the top three. Many Berkshire firms are involved in advanced manufacturing, which features good-paying jobs and is growing nationally.

"What they learn are tangible skills in welding," Milano said, referring to this year's graduates. "We teach them skills that employers are really looking for. A lot of people are looking to change and get out of lower-income fields into career pathways."

The training also includes sessions in work-readiness skills like resume writing and learning how to be punctual in the workplace, and the realities that exist in shift work. Students are also introduced to area manufacturers through onsite visits.

Lenco Industries of Pittsfield, one of the country's leading manufacturers of armored vehicles, hired one of the graduates of last year's advanced manufacturing training program.

"It gives people who are interested a general background in manufacturing," said John McCloskey, Lenco's human resources manager, who is a former employee of the Regional Employment Board. "If I remember correctly, they put them through certain training that would help when they're going in for a manufacturing job.

"The best thing for an employer is to have someone who goes through the program because they have an interest," he said. "It's different than just putting an ad in the newspaper; these people are looking for manufacturing jobs."

Hotson has since found employment as an electrician but said his newly acquired welding skills give him the ability to diversify when looking for job opportunities.

"I came into this class having never welded before. I'm coming out of the class with four to five certifications," he said. "I feel like I if I got hired with a company that was looking for a skilled welder that I definitely would be able to go far with the trade. ... This course was definitely worth the time."

Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.