Advanced manufacturing job fair a nuts-and-bolts effort to boost workforce

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PITTSFIELD Brandon Asher previously was employed in the food service industry, which tends to be seasonal. He's looking for a more permanent job.

Asher, 25, of Pittsfield, tried his luck Wednesday at the advanced manufacturing job fair at the MassHire Berkshire Career Center in Pittsfield. The event, which drew seven employers, was part of a state-funded job-training initiative that the center conducts annually to train unemployed and underemployed county residents in advanced manufacturing skills so they can either enter or advance in those fields.

Job openings were available Wednesday for press technicians/press operators; mold-makers; central purchasers; apprentice mold-makers; document control specialists; engineering project managers; and computer numeric control (CNC) machinists, according to literature available at the event.

The job fair was targeted for graduates of the 2019 Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Program, where certificates of completion and other job qualifications were bestowed on 48 county residents last week. But the second half of the two-hour event was open to the general public.

A total of 27 participants attended the meeting, according to MassHire Berkshire Career Center business representative Stephanie Caporale.

Asher was one of the attendees who did not attend the training session, but he has been working with career center personnel since being laid off May 1, and thought Wednesday's event would assist him in his job search.

"I'm trying to get something more steady," said Asher, who previously has worked as a cook.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Sherry Gagnon, 42, of North Adams, who just had completed an advanced manufacturing training course in welding. Gagnon already had a background in manufacturing, having built wire harnesses, but she wants to get into a higher-paying practice in the same field.

"I'm looking for any advancement in a career field," she said.

She wasn't looking for a particular job.

"Right now, it's all entry level," Gagnon said. "The companies do the training."

Manufacturing is the county's fifth-largest job sector, according to Sarah Milano, the career center's industry training coordinator. The county firms that belong to that group make all sorts of cutting-edge products.

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But unlike previous Berkshire manufacturing behemoths like General Electric Co., most of the region's current advanced manufacturing firms are small enterprises.

"They want to grow and stay," Milano said, "but they need the people."

The training program provides county residents with that opportunity.

"We give them the basic skills to get in the door," Caporale said.

This is the fifth year the MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board has participated in the state's advanced business training program, which, this year, is funded by a $178,000 grant from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The board oversees the career center.

In the Berkshires, the training program so far has been a success, with a 70 percent job-placement rate, according to the center.

Keith Kupiec, the plant manager for Tog Manufacturing of North Adams, said his company was looking for CNC machinists. Computer numeric-controlled equipment is precision machinery that cuts, grinds or drills into material.

His company wasn't doing any on-the-spot hiring Wednesday, but Kupiec said the company planned to evaluate people who expressed an interest in working there.

"There's a lot of different backgrounds here," he said.

One of the older job fair participants was 75-year-old Tom Passage, who recently moved from New Jersey to Pittsfield to be closer to his daughter, who lives in New York's Capital Region.

Passage, who is retired, said he had previous experience in the aerospace industry and had worked for a number of well-known companies, including Lockheed-Martin, Martin Marietta and Bendix.

"I did a lot of electromechanical work," he said. "I want something to keep my brain going, want to see what's out there and find a company that I can help."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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