PITTSFIELD March Madness starts this week with the opening of the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments and many workplaces throughout the country will soon be experiencing bouts of cheers and groans.

This happens every March as employees fill out their NCAA tournament brackets, and follow them as the tournament progresses hoping to have the ultimate winner and secure bragging rights over their coworkers.

Cell phones and computers make it easy for employees to "secretly" check scores, bracket pools, and even watch games that are streaming online. It's inevitable that March Madness is going to impact office productivity, but if managed correctly, it's also a great opportunity to establish an annual ritual that builds office morale and employee engagement.

While this annual obsession with college basketball may seem like an unwelcome distraction at work, nearly one in four companies encourage their employees to celebrate the annual NCAA tournament.

Fifty-three percent of employees say they celebrate sporting events like March Madness with coworkers; 39 percent say the tourney supports a healthy mix of work and play; 27 percent say following the tournament fosters team work, and 25 percent believe it offers a nice distraction from the daily grind, according to a 2018 study conducted by OfficeTeam, a national staffing service.

It also seems like March Madness for us at the Berkshire Workforce Board and our many team partners because we prepare for a frenzy of organized workforce activity that takes place in March and April. It's our hope that these initiatives will benefit our companies, job seekers and career changers, and meet your expectations for workforce success.

At the Berkshire Workforce Board, we take great pride with the initiatives that are made possible through the efforts of a strong team that includes staff, corporate partners, the board of directors, vendors, committees, and our community partners.

Here are the examples of some programs that confirm the belief that, as a strong team, we can win:

- Monthly Job Seeker Meet Ups —The workforce board is sponsoring monthly job seeker and career changer meet ups that are designed to connect recent graduates, those who are new new to the area, and both the underemployed or unemployed to area resources.

These sessions take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon on the second Wednesday of every month in Pittsfield; from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on second the Thursdays in North Adams; and from 10:30 a.m. to noon on second the Fridays in Great Barrington. Information: MMitts@MassHireBerkshire.com.

- Jobs4Youth Campaign — Employers, the Berkshire Workforce Board needs your help. Participation in this program helps to support our youth, grow our economy and enhance the region's workforce. For just $2,000, an employer can provide a young person with a six week summer work experience that can greatly impact their future.

The program's corporate sponsors help expand and sustain youth programming. Either participate as a host employer by providing low-income youth with a subsidized work experience, or hire a young person between the ages of 14 and 21 to directly help shape a young person's future and help the region qualify for additional resources. For information, employers should contact YouthDirector@MassHireBerkshire.com. Young people should contact their school's guidance counselor to see if they qualify under the program's guidelines.

- Training opportunities — The Berkshire Workforce Board offers manufacturing training programs for unemployed and underemployed individuals through a Hoisting 3A/1C prep class and welding. Berkshire Community College is hosting a new fast track hospitality and culinary arts program that begins on March 18. Information: Sara@MassHireBerkshire.com or 413.442.7177 ext. 118.

Heather Boulger is the executive director of the MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board in Pittsfield.