Berkshire Compact redefining its mission

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NORTH ADAMS — Fourteen years after its formation, the Berkshire Compact is redefining its work and mission.

Since last August, the presidents of Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts have worked with a seven-member leadership group to redefine Berkshire Compact's efforts to identify and help address issues facing the region's economy and education sectors, particularly when it comes to filling the workforce gaps with highly qualified employees.

MCLA President James Birge said the leadership group solicited and received some "frank" feedback on how the broad scope of the Compact was "confusing," often replicated the work of some existed programs and "lacks predefined goals and metrics."

Serving the new Compact leadership team to help fine tune its goals are: veteran McCann Technical School Superintendent James Brosnan; Brenda Burdick, director of strategic communications for General Dynamics Mission Systems; MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board Executive Director Heather Boulger; 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler and Berkshire Children and Families President and CEO Colleen White Holmes.

The new leadership group has put forth a top priority: "Ensure that Berkshire County is an increasingly competitive location by aligning education and training with workforce opportunities for regional employers and members of our community."

The Berkshire Compact still includes dozens of local stakeholders, including the presidents of BCC and MCLA; local school superintendents, educators and youth workers; members of 1Berkshire and other local business leaders, and elected officials including town and city leaders as well as state delegates.

"This is a convening organization," said Brosnan, a founding member of the Compact group. "We collaborate. We communicate. We connect. And we're still here collaborating after 14 years."

BCC President Ellen Kennedy, who kicked off the June 27 Berkshire Compact meeting at the Church Street Center at MCLA, said, "There have been many, many accomplishments of this group."

She listed the third- and sixth-grade field trips the group coordinates to local college campuses, the 10th Grade Career Expo and other career development programs for students among the Compact's successes.

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Joshua Mendel, MCLA director of recruitment and outreach for the Division of Graduate and Continuing Education and chairman of the Berkshire Compact Aspirations and Access Committee, highlighted various pilot programs designed to give youth and families immersive educational opportunities and support, through mentoring and career exploration programs, to support that spark of wanting to enhance their quality of life.

Mendel invited Isabelle Holmes to discuss her role in the inaugural Berkshire Family YMCA Northern Berkshire Mentoring Program, which will soon mark its first year. Holmes talked about her mentee, also named Isabelle, an eighth-grader who has found both aspirations and confronted challenges with her career plan: the student's enrolling in an automotive vocational program at McCann Tech, but aspires to become a veterinarian.

Members of the Berkshire Compact hope that they can do better in helping to support students like this in fine-tuning their career goals and creating clear channels for education and training to get there, especially in sectors of the Berkshires where there are high employment needs.

During his remarks at the June 27 Compact meeting, Birge said that there are about 1,200 open job positions in the Berkshires, with half of those jobs requiring a higher education degree.

"There are actually 1,610 job openings in Berkshire County today," Boulger said Monday. The data comes from the commonwealth's Job Quest website that includes job openings that are registered with career centers and workforce boards. For this region, the most sought-after employees include engineers, residential support, laborers, management professionals, technicians, teachers, nurses and bank tellers.

Presenting on workforce development priorities, Butler and Boulger presented at the Compact meeting updates regarding the state-funded Berkshire Skills Cabinet and the locally researched Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 initiatives for economic and workforce development. Butler said the Blueprint is a "broader economic development plan" while the governor's so-called Workforce Skills Cabinet model for the Berkshires focuses on "targeted workforce development strategies" in three primary "clusters": advanced manufacturing and engineering, health care and social assistance, and hospitality and management.

This fall, Boulger said there will be a public awareness campaign launch for "making sure our local community — our young people especially, and the college students that come here — are aware of job opportunities and career pathway opportunities right here in the Berkshires."

She said that will be done through a series of videos, made available through websites and social media, a database to track information and opportunities in these sectors, and a workforce survey that's being developed with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

Butler said he sees the Berkshire Compact as a critical partner in fulfilling these goals to meet specific workforce needs.


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