SPRINGFIELD — Anne Kandilis spends a lot of time talking with area employers, so she knows there are jobs to be had. How to connect those jobs to people who can perform them — well, that’s an issue that has plagued Western Mass. for a generation.
“One local employer told me, ‘I’m about half the size I could be, but I can’t find enough skilled workers,” said Kandilis, Working Cities Challenge director at the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Western Massachusetts.
Furthermore, she noted, many of these jobs are blue-collar positions that don’t require a college degree, but the disconnect remains due to a perception among job seekers that it’s too difficult to retrain for a new career.
“For Springfield and the whole region, how do we break down those barriers that make it difficult for job seekers to find jobs, and for employers to find quality workers?” she asked. “That’s really the premise of Springfield WORKS.”
Springfield WORKS, a collaboration by city, community, education, and employer leaders to develop strategies to transform the region’s workforce ecosystem, was funded with a three-year Working Cities Challenge grant from the Boston Federal Reserve Bank. One concrete application of those strategies, an innovative job portal, will be launched today, Oct. 25 at 3:30 p.m. at the UMASS Center at Springfield in Tower Square, 1500 Main Street.
The event, titled “Innovations in Developing and Delivering a Workforce,” will offer the first public presentation of the portal, which aims to connect job seekers and current workers with a roadmap to available positions. Importantly — because this has too often been the missing piece, Kandilis said — the portal will also serve as a resource on where to acquire needed skills with available training.
Prabal Chakrabarti, senior vice president and Community Affairs officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and one of the founders of the Fed’s Working Cities Challenge, will moderate the session. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno will make opening remarks and will be joined by Delcie Bean, founder of Tech Foundry and CEO of Paragus IT; Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health; and Lydia Martinez, assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools. Each of these organizations will be providing information about connecting people to jobs, resources, and career paths at their respective organizations through the new Springfield WORKS portal.
The region’s low unemployment rate does not reflect the total number of people not participating in the labor force. Approximately 42 out of 100 Springfield residents age 16 to 64 are not working, and the initiative is a response to employers needing more qualified candidates to support operations and growth.
“We want to change that number from 42% who aren’t working to 25%, and lower if we can get there,” Kandilis said. “We are excited. Everything is ready. We’ve worked really hard. Employers have been phenomenal in their participation. At the end of the day, we want to be the region that companies want to move to because of our workforce.”