PITTSFIELD -- Saddled with the highest job vacancy rate in the state’s history, Berkshire County has received a $350,000 state training grant to help under- and unemployed residents find jobs in the local health care field.
The three-year grant to the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board will fund a new program, Healthcare P.A.C.E (Partners Achieving Career Enrichment), to be conducted in collaboration with eight local health care agencies.
Currently, the county has the highest job vacancy rate in Massachusetts since the state began compiling those statistics, according to the BCREB. And while health care is Berkshire’s largest employment sector, the county’s overall vacancy rate for nurses is slightly higher than the state average.
"Basically, what we need to do here at the Regional Employment Board is [to] develop a health care career pathway so our job seekers can find multiple ways to jump on the bandwagon for training so our employers can have the skilled workforce that they need," said Heather Boulger, BCREB’s executive director.
The funding was included in the Patrick Administration’s release of $4.5 million through the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund. The latest round of funding is designed to improve the gap between skills held by workers and the skills held by employers for jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but less than the equivalent of a four-year college degree.
Participants in the program are Berkshire Health Systems, the county’s largest employer, Northern Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Community College and the BerkshireWorks Career Center. Colleen Rossi is the project manager. The eight partners are providing an additional $200,700 toward the training initiative.
In the Berkshires, the program will serve 87 under or unemployed county residents, and 57 incumbent workers. An additional 100 workers will be eligible to participate in work readiness training, Boulger said. The program expires in April 2016.
BCREB previously has received grants that provided similar health care training, but this one includes a work-readiness component to help potential employees better prepare for the demands of the job, and a medical simulation experience designed to gauge their interest in a career in the health care field.
The work-readiness program focuses on lifestyle skills that potential employees may lack.
"We would find that we would train people to be a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), but they didn’t know how to coordinate day care so that they could make it to the second shift, or what to do if their car broke down to get to work," she said. "So we added that work-readiness component, which is really critical."
John Barrett III, the director of the BerkshireWorks Career Center, said there is a great demand for CNAs in the Berkshires, but there also is a high turnover rate. He said this program will help CNAs develop the skills that make them more prepared to become registered nurses.
Receiving job training through the collaborating health care agencies is also intended to enhance each job seekers future employment prospects.
"It’s going to produce CNAs that have kind of a leg up or a step up from other people who don’t go through these particular training programs," Boulger said. "They’re going to be exposed to potential internships, and exposed to the companies prior to actually receiving their certification." Health Care Training Program Project: Healthcare P.A.C.E. (Partners Achieving Career Enrichment). Recipient: Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. Funding: $350,000 (state); $200,700 (training partners). Length: Three years (April 2016). Beneficiaries: Berkshire Healthcare Systems, Northern Berkshire Comprehensive Care, Berkshire Health Systems, Northern Berkshire Health Systems, BerkshireWorks, Berkshire Community College, McCann Technical School, Mildred Elley. Opportunities: Enhanced CNA training opportunities in restorative, geriatric and acute care; work readiness workshops; medical simulation experiences; life skills/math enhancement session; supervisory leadership training. Information: Colleen Rossi, 413-442-7177, ext. 153; www.BCREB.com; health@berkshireREB.org.