Berkshire employers face a very real challenge. We have more open positions than we have trained people to fill them. It is a significant difference from years past, when there were not enough jobs for everyone who needed work. While this new reality of a work-skills gap exists, it is an altogether better challenge to face, because we have an educational community focused on addressing the gap head-on.
In a traditional sense, our educational bodies, from early childcare through technical school, secondary school, and higher education, are working to provide the skills and training necessary to create the next generation of Berkshire workforce. Each year this locally-grown pipeline produces around 1,000 high school graduates and around 1,000 college graduates from our three primary college campuses. While our education system works incredibly hard to train and educate individuals, the number of graduates of the system who choose to stay in the Berkshires is insufficient to fill the workforce demand.
In addition to this traditional context, our educational partners across the Berkshires have also become key players in initiatives that look more comprehensively at the workforce ecosystem. Through the Berkshire Workforce Skills Cabinet, education, economic development, and workforce partners have come together to answer a charge from the Governor to align their efforts in new and dynamic ways. In this alignment, educational programs are able to adjust and support the needs of both the employers of the region and the overall economy. With Berkshire Community College’s President Ellen Kennedy as one of the tri-chairs of this group, and with representatives from both McCann Technical School and Pittsfield Public Schools, a renewed effort to focus the lens of regional education on filling our skills gap is underway.
Specialized training opportunities, and increased access have become integral pipeline supports. Prime examples of this can be found in MCLA’s Electrical Engineering program, focused on supporting the workforce needs of General Dynamics, and the opening of their Pittsfield location in spring 2019. Additional examples of this commitment can be found in Berkshire Community College’s Hospitality Fast Track program and their newly launched Cannabis concentration, which each offer students a targeted, high impact set of training to get them ready to become key players in the regional hospitality and cannabis industries, respectively. These agile educational offerings not only create opportunities to build the local workforce capacity, but they show a direct commitment to advancing the regional economy through education and training.
One of the most exciting aspects of how regional education partners are playing a role in addressing our workforce gap actually goes far beyond education, and transitions into recruitment. The double-down that we’ve seen has taken the form of their collective support of our 1Berkshire jobs thing portal. You may be surprised to learn that the lead sponsor of the jobs thing is a cooperative group called Teach Berkshires. This collaboration of all the public school districts not only posts numerous positions paying at least $40,000+ per year, but their support makes it possible for the system to promote hundreds of positions every year as we work to recruit new people to live, work, and play in the Berkshires. Additionally, both Williams College and Berkshire Community College have joined the portal as sponsors, adding additional support that bolsters the marketing capacity and helps us reach literally millions of people who might be looking to call the Berkshires home. This direct investment in recruitment is a true double down, and not only an investment in their own organizations, but a high-impact investment in the entire economy of the Berkshires.
We are at a critical point in the regional economic ecosystem. We have many well-paying jobs and not enough trained workers to fill them. It will continue to take many hands, numerous initiatives, and a large amount of collective impact work to turn a corner on our skills gap. However, collaboration has always been a source of strength in the Berkshires. Knowing that our public school systems and regional higher education partners are raising the bar and supporting efforts of training and recruitment like never before, we see great things on the horizon, and are excited to work together on this journey.
Photos (top to bottom): Williams College campus; MCLA Robotics Lab