BIC program aims to groom students for local high-tech jobs

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PITTSFIELD — To help bridge the skills gap between local employers and employees, the Berkshire Innovation Center is launching a new program designed to provide the county's young people with a direct pathway to the county's highly skilled jobs.

This fall, the BIC is launching the Berkshire E-Talent Accelerator, or BETA, a six-week initiative that will provide participants with a practical understanding of STEM-related — science, technology, engineering and math — job opportunities in the Berkshires, and ways to achieve their professional goals.

The program's first installment, BETA-1, is scheduled to take place from Oct. 12 to Nov. 24. It will be open to 20 participants — current high school juniors and seniors and recent high school graduates interested in pursuing careers in either technology or advanced manufacturing. The application deadline is Sept. 8.

Plans call for a second accelerator program to take place in the spring, according to BIC Executive Director Ben Sosne.

The Berkshire E-Talent Accelerator was formed based on feedback from local companies, which told BIC officials they need more locally skilled employees in order to grow.

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"The real impetus was addressing the need for talent," Sosne said. "Every time we went out to visit, we kept hearing that if we want to grow, we need talent. ... You want to have a local talent pool, and how do you train the local workforce to understand the opportunities that are here in the Berkshires."

The program's goal is to connect youngsters who need the opportunities and can benefit the most from them with the companies that need the talent, said Justin McKennon, the principal scientist for Electro Magnetic Applications, which is building an aerospace testing chamber at the BIC.

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"If we're successful in the way that we think that we're going to be, we hope that the largest percentage of kids who participate will fill those [employment] needs from a labor standpoint," said McKennon, who helped develop the BETA program. "If you're interested in mechanical engineering or computer programming, we're going to be providing these kids with a road map based on their interests."

Other participants in the program include General Dynamics Mission Systems, VidMob of Pittsfield and Michael Coakley, the business development manager for the city of Pittsfield, according to McKennon. Those who complete the BETA accelerator will receive a $1,500 stipend from Berkshire Money Management of Dalton, which is helping to fund the program along with Berkshire Bank. There is no application fee.

Students selected to appear in the BETA-1 program will be separated into four "verticals," or sections, based on preferences that will be identified during the application process: advanced manufacturing and material science; software and programming; electronics and electrical engineering; and information technology and security.

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The curriculum consists of three stages: immersion, exposure and challenge. The immersion stage includes specific training and instruction, while the exposure stage contains visits and feedback from the program's participating companies. In the challenge stage, students in each section will work with their teams to frame and complete a project that will be shaped during the program's first two stages. BETA will conclude with each team presenting its project to a panel of judges.

The members of the winning team will receive a scholarship prize. Project work and presentation will be captured digitally and archived on the BIC's website.

Much of the instruction will take place at the BIC. Due to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkshire school districts are working out how education will be presented in the fall. With those considerations in mind, Sosne said, the BIC will have "to be somewhat flexible" in how this fall's program will be presented.

"If things stay the way they are, there ought to be enough space [at the BIC] to social distance and do it," McKennon said

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.


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