Heather Boulger: Change is happening — including workforce development | Company

It is not new news that the pandemic has changed things, especially labor demands. Over the past few months, the MassHire team has met with over 800 companies to better understand the collective impact on Berkshire County and how our workforce has changed. Here are our main conclusions:

• Eighty-one percent of employers have had difficulty hiring in the past 12 months (a significant increase from 56% in 2019).

• Every industry has struggled with almost every profession.

• Main reasons for recruitment difficulties: “too few applicants;” “employability issues;” and “The proposed salary was too low.”

• In response, employers tried to revise salaries for current and new employees, provided training and offered flexible hours.

• 40% used the labor system; lack of awareness is the main reason for those who did not.

• The use of online resources to recruit was higher than in previous years.

• Eighty-two percent of employers confident about the success of the year ahead.

A few comments

The re-emergence of genuine work-life balance is stimulating and redefining job quality and quality of life. MassHire will continue to deliver training programs that develop the right skills for our job seekers to succeed in virtual work and in-person services. Not only for the jobs of today, but also for those of tomorrow.

Workers matter. Most people are finally recognizing these essential workers who have continued to show up and provide essential services. Grocery store attendants, truck drivers, warehouse workers, first responders, teachers, manufacturers, letter carriers, drivers, nurses, medical professionals, etc. are treated with more respect. MassHire has a number of upcoming job fairs to help connect with these essential workers.

Great Quit – in which 38 million workers nationwide quit their jobs. Some of the most experienced workers, baby boomers who had spent years working their way up and working long hours, decided it was time to retire. This affected around 2,000 people in Berkshire’s workforce.

Tight work force. Restrictive immigration policies, 50 years of low birth rates and an aging population have left us with fewer people of working age. Businesses will need to redouble their efforts to find and retain employees. And it’s not just about raising wages. Younger generations seek help for mental health issues, want to feel appreciated and valued, and want to emphasize diversity and social equity in the workplace.

Solutions to change

Last month was Workforce Development Month, which gives us reason to celebrate the Berkshires’ workforce development successes and highlight new initiatives that will change and improve the skills of workers, connect talent to job openings and help job seekers transition to new opportunities.

For context, Berkshire’s latest employment statistics (August 2022) show the region’s unemployment rate of 4.0%, with over 61,084 people in the labor force. Employment change over the year in Pittsfield shows an increase of 500 jobs (1.1%), reflecting growing confidence in the regional economy. In fiscal year 2022, Berkshire’s workforce system helped 2,843 people, 950 businesses, 3,500 youth, and leveraged $1.8 million to train 150 workers.

MassHire is on a mission to attract and prepare job seekers to succeed in the jobs of today and tomorrow. “Think globally and act locally.” We are constantly modifying our workforce system to meet these needs. There is an abundance of information for employers and job seekers on MassHireBerkshire.com.

Coaching. One of the best ways for employers to retain talent in the region is to provide skills development and training opportunities. Berkshire County Businesses has received more than $10 million in workforce training funds to train more than 11,000 workers since its inception. This fund is an essential tool for many companies to improve employee skills and increase productivity.

Workforce vocational education and training plays a huge role in economic and personal development by helping residents gain the skills they need to embark on promising careers. Governor Charlie Baker recently announced a caregiver training grant to MassHire and workforce skills capital grants to Berkshire Community College, McCann Technical School and Berkshire Innovation Center to modernize equipment to provide greater career path opportunities in healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing.

MassHire job and career fairs. MassHire will host a STEM & Manufacturing career fair from 10 a.m. to noon on October 21 at the Berkshire Innovation Center; a (virtual) New England job fair on November 15-16; and weekly onsite recruiting, career center seminars, workshops and more. Job seekers and individuals looking to advance their careers are encouraged to visit MassHire Career Center at 160 North St. in Pittsfield for a wide range of career advice; job clubs; workshops; resume support; guidance for online applications and interviews; job search strategies; and much more. Attend a career center seminar to learn more about all they have to offer.

MassHire Job Quest is a statewide database to help match skills to job opportunities and to help companies find employees. This free online portal helps candidates and employers learn about their workforce needs and career changes.

Market Maker/Business Service Rep. These are our Business 411 resources for hiring and recruitment assistance, tax incentives, training grants, business development support, and more. These services will help Berkshire businesses bottom line and help them stay competitive.

MassHire does our best together, regardless of industry or number of shifts. Partnerships between workforce development, education, Berkshire businesses and talent development agencies are absolutely essential to meeting the challenges of tomorrow’s workforce. MassHire programs such as College/Career Readiness, Jobs4Youth and Industry Sector Training are all designed to help companies connect with workers and implement a worker training program that provides them with a sustainable pipeline of skilled workers to the future.

Over the next few months, MassHire will present a series of company tours, listening sessions and workforce appreciation events designed to highlight proven workforce strategies, seek feedback from our partners and recognize the hard work of our people who contribute to the success of our workforce. With more than 3,212 jobs currently available on the JobQuest website (tinyurl.com/3rtuh56m) and projections showing nearly 1,000 vacancies to be filled each year through 2024, there is still work to be done.

MassHire is confident that through the hard work, dedication and work ethic of the Berkshire worker, we will continue to meet these challenges and move our region forward no matter what changes occur.

Michael A. Bynum