Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Foundation for TJO Animals will present Pets Rock! — a concert to benefit local homeless animals in need at the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control & Adoption Center — on Saturday, June 10 from noon to 5 p.m. at Springfield Lodge of Elks #61, 440 Tiffany St., Springfield. All proceeds from this event will provide much-needed medical care and training to the many animals that call TJO their temporary home.

Sponsored by Planet Fitness, Pets Rock! will be an afternoon of music, food, and fun. Pat Kelly of Lazer 99.3 & 105.1 will host a lineup of four local bands: Locals Only, Feel Good Drift, Tough Customer, and Trailer Trash. Attendees are welcome to bring their beach chairs and blankets to enjoy food trucks from establishments including Murphy’s Pub, Plan B Burger, and Poppie’s Concessions, as well as games, raffles, and face painting for the kids.

Tickets are $15 (children under 12 are free), available at the gate or online at www.tjofoundation.org. The first 200 people admitted will receive a free commemorative mug to fill with the beverage of their choice. The venue requests service dogs only, and no coolers are allowed.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Bacon Wilson announced the opening of a new facility at 57 Center St. in downtown Northampton. On May 24, the firm welcomed clients, neighbors, and friends to a grand-opening reception. Also present was Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who officiated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Bacon Wilson’s newly renovated, state-of-the-art office space at 57 Center St. features several striking design elements, including lots of natural light, an enclosed interior courtyard, and soaring ceilings. The main conference room has been christened the Fogel Room, in tribute to former partner Bruce Fogel, who passed away last year.

Bacon Wilson has had a long-time presence in Hampshire County. The firm’s first Northampton office space opened in 2001, and expanded significantly with the 2005 acquisition of Morse & Sacks. In 2006, a merge with Monsein & MacConnell brought Bacon Wilson to the Amherst community. Earlier this year, the firm added another new location, on Russell Street in Hadley. The current move to 57 Center St. brings Bacon Wilson even closer to the heart of downtown Northampton, and reaffirms the firm’s commitment to the local Northampton community, and to the entire Pioneer Valley.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College is offering what may be the first course of its kind in the region, in industry-related airbrushing.

The 20-hour workshop is designed to provide instruction and hands-on experience in the airbrushing application of makeup, nail design, temporary body art, and tanning.

The workshop, which starts on June 5 at 3 p.m., lasts 20 hours, spread over five Monday afternoons. The cost is $350.

“We work closely with local employers, and they tell us what they want their employees to know,” said Ruth Butler, clinical instructor from the Cosmetology Department at STCC. “We think this workshop will be interesting and enjoyable for everyone, but may be especially helpful for those that are working or looking for work in the industry.”

Younger students are encouraged to attend. Students must be 16 years of age or older or at least entering their junior year of high school to participate.

“If a young person takes this workshop and sees that they have a talent or an interest in taking additional classes, we’d be happy to help them to succeed in this field,” Butler said.

Matt Kriftcher, department chair for Graphic Communications and Photography at STCC, has been a professor of airbrushing techniques for over 20 years. He co-teaches the workshop.

“Limited spaces for this course are available due to STCC’s dedication to providing low faculty-to-student ratios to ensure constant feedback and detailed learning opportunities,” he said.

Students must supply a few nominal items. For more information or to enroll online, visit www.stcc.edu/wt and search for ‘airbrushing.’ To enroll in person, go to STCC Building 6, Room 146, or call (413) 755-4225.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Attorney Michael Gove of Gove Law Office will offer an informative discussion about key issues that are important to understand when planning for the future or for the care of an aging loved one. The session will take place at Christopher Heights Assisted Living Community on Wednesday, June 21 at 6 p.m.

Gove will review various documents, such as healthcare proxy, trusts, power of attorney, last will and testament, declaration of homestead, and medical orders for life-sustaining treatment. Those in attendance should gain a better understanding of when and if these documents are necessary to complete.

The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided, and tours of the assisted-living community will be available after the program. Seating is limited, and reservations are requested by June 16 by calling (413) 584-0701 or e-mailing [email protected]. Parking is available on Village Hill Road, Moser Street, and in the Christopher Heights parking lot on the corner of Moser Street and Musante Drive.

Education Sections

Down to a Science Center

Marcia Scanlon says the numerous simulators in the new Science and Innovation Center provide unique, hands-on learning experiences.

Marcia Scanlon says the numerous simulators in the new Science and Innovation Center provide unique, hands-on learning experiences.

John McDonald hit the pause button ever so briefly in his conversation with BusinessWest and went to the window.

He then scanned the parking lot for his pick-up truck, found it, and gestured toward it. “There … that was our other lab space — my truck,” said McDonald, an assistant professor in the Environmental Science Department at Westfield State University. “Occasionally, we’d have field labs, such as animal necropsies, and we’d have to do those on the back of the truck, parked next to Route 20. We had zero functional lab space.”

The window he pointed from is one of many in the spacious classroom/lab area dedicated to Environmental Science at the Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center at WSU, which opened last fall and was officially dedicated earlier this month.

The space represents everything this department didn’t have before — especially ample room and modern facilities such as a wet lab complete with drains in the floor. And while this department represents perhaps the most dramatic ‘before-and-after,’ ‘night-and-day’ scenario when it comes to the new building, there are many such stories to be told here.

Like the one the Department of Nursing and Allied Health can tell.

Marcia Scanlon, chair of that department, said that, prior to the opening of the new center, the Nursing Department made do with some classroom space on campus and, for hands-on skills work, a room with three hospital beds and two simulators in what amounted to rented space at Baystate Noble Hospital, about a mile from the campus.

Now, Nursing has a spacious suite of facilities in the 54,000-square-foot facility, including three simulation rooms, an eight-bed health-assessment room, an eight-bed nursing-skills lab, two control rooms, four high-fidelity mannequins, and 12 additional low- and mid-fidelity mannequins representing adults, children, infants, and newborns.

All this represents quite an upgrade, not just in space and convenience (students no longer have to make their way to Baystate Noble), but in overall learning opportunities, said Scanlon.

“By having all this on campus in this center, that gives students better access,” Scanlon explained. “It gives them better visibility, better access, and more opportunities to come for extra help if they need it.”

Jennifer Hanselman, professor and chair of the Biology Department, and Christopher Masi, chair of the Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, told somewhat similar stories.

The 54,000-square-foot Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center.

The 54,000-square-foot Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens Science and Innovation Center.

They, like Scanlon and McDonald, said a tremendous amount of research and input gathering, including visits to many other health and science centers in this region, were undertaken before the architects and construction crews went to work.

“We affiliated very closely with Springfield Technical Community College, which is a renowned simulation center for its Nursing and Allied Health,” said Scanlon, as she discussed just one example of this process. “We went and toured there to look at their technology and their equipment, and how they integrate it  — how often do they bring students to use it, and how do they use it? We made several trips there, and they actually came here, put hard hats on, and walked through our space to give us advice.”

Those exercises have yielded a facility that takes WSU to a new, much higher level in terms of its facilities, learning opportunities, and ability to recruit top students.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest went inside the new science center to get a feel for what it means to those departments now housed there, and the university itself.

Grade Expectations

As WSU cut the ribbon on the new center on May 5, a good amount of time was spent explaining just who Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens was. And such a discourse was needed, because most in attendance — not to mention the students now doing work in the facility — don’t know the story.

And they should.

Stevens completed four years of coursework at what was known then as the Westfield Normal School in only two years. In 1905, she published a series of papers in which she demonstrated that the sex of an offspring is determined by the chromosomes it inherits from its parents. Her discovery had an immeasurable impact on science and society; however, despite the significance of her work, Stevens’ notoriety went unheralded even as her male colleagues received recognition.

It is fitting, then, that the school named the center after her, said speakers at the ribbon cutting, especially in light of the role the facility will play in advancing a statewide strategy in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, especially with women.

At WSU, women comprise 51% of the student population, said a spokesperson for the university, and within the school’s STEM majors, there has been 69% growth in male majors and an impressive 109% increase in female majors over the past 10 years. (Nationally, only 29% of the science and engineering workforce is female.)

The new science and innovation center should only help improve upon those numbers, said the educators who spoke with BusinessWest, noting that the facility features state-of-the-art facilities and interactive classrooms, with an emphasis on collaborative learning.

Jennifer Hanselman says the new biology facilities in the Science and Innovation Center provide educators with better opportunities to work with students and develop their skills.

Jennifer Hanselman says the new biology facilities in the Science and Innovation Center provide educators with better opportunities to work with students and develop their skills.

Translation: the Environmental Science Department has come a very long way from the back of John McDonald’s pickup truck. And the same can be said for the other departments that now call the center home.

Elaborating, McDonald said his department had a small classroom in Wilson Hall, where most science programs were housed, some counter space and cabinets, and “a hood that didn’t work and a walk-in freezer that didn’t work, and no workspace other than a collecting hallway to another classroom that was about 10 feet long.

“It was pretty meager,” he went on, adding that environmental science is a relatively new major, one that now has considerable space in which to grow.

“Getting this room, and the adjacent workroom and storeroom with a working walk-in freezer, has been a huge boon to what we’re able to do with our students,” he said of the large space now occupied by his department. “The space doubles as a teaching classroom, but we can get it as dirty as we want with soil samples, water samples, or wildlife samples.”

Meanwhile, the Nursing Department has undergone a similarly dramatic transformation through its new facilities.

Indeed, as she offered a tour of the suite, Scanlon showed off a host of amenities that were just not available to students at Baystate Noble.

These include the wide array of simulators, representing everything from newborns to a pregnant women to a senior citizen, complete with a hearing aid. These simulators can take the role of either gender — “they all come with wigs and interchangeable parts; I can make them ‘Bob,’ and I can make them ‘Dorothy,’” said Scanlon — and present students with myriad medical conditions and problems, from high blood pressure to a skin rash to heart palpitations.

There were also the control rooms guiding work with those simulators (at Noble, an educator would work from behind a curtain), as well as a ‘medication-simulation room,’ which, as that name suggests, allows students practice with retrieving and dispensing medication.

And then, there are the large, eight-bed health-assessment room and nursing-skills lab. Designed to replicate conditions in a hospital, where nurses would obviously be caring for multiple patients at a time, these facilities provide learning opportunities simply not available at Noble.

“I think this is the beginning of something big,” she said while describing what the new facility means in terms of education opportunities, using a phrase that everyone we spoke with would echo. “We’re just trying to learn the technology and see how to implement it. But in the future, this will be transforming; we’ll have inter-professional education, and we’ll be able to do things using this technology that we weren’t able to do before. And it will provide a higher degree of safety because we have the actual equipment the hospitals have.”

Masi used similar language as he talked about the facilities dedicated to the Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, noting, as others did, that the Science and Innovation Center represents a significant upgrade.

“Our new facilities provide us with a safer space to work in,” he explained. “We can now deal with more students at a given time, and we can work with them in a safer environment.”

Elaborating, he said there were 144 students enrolled in the General Chemistry classes in the new facility and roughly 80 in Organic Chemistry, both sizable increases.

“By moving from one building to the next, we can get more students in, which is important, because other majors are requiring Organic Chemistry,” he explained, adding that, beyond sheer capacity, the new space creates a more collaborative learning environment. “We’re excited to have the space and to be able to get to some of the things we’ve been slowly working on in the past.”

Hanselman, meanwhile, said the new space brings similar improvements and new opportunities for the Biology Department, which currently has roughly 230 students enrolled in that major.

“The modernized lab facilities offer us the opportunity to certainly work and prepare our students more effectively,” she explained. “We have a goal of working with our students in the scientific process; we emphasize research experience, and we planned this space accordingly.”

As examples, she pointed to two dedicated labs and a tissue-culture facility.

“Those lab spaces are never scheduled for classes; they’re used only for student research,” she explained. “This is giving us a chance to really work with students and develop their skills.

“These labs are designed in a way to promote inquiry-based instruction for those 100- and 200-level lab courses,” she went on, adding that they provide an environment conducive to problem solving and critical thinking.

Class Acts

As noted earlier, Scanlon was speaking for everyone when she said the first year of activity at the new Science and Innovation Center was merely the beginning of something big.

Something much bigger than McDonald’s pickup truck. Something that, as many of those we spoke with said, will be transforming.

Something to which Dr. Nettie Maria Stevens would be proud to lend her name.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]



By Associated Industries of Massachusetts

Employers often call the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Employer Hotline to ask what happens when an inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) comes to their job site. While every workplace is unique, OSHA’s list of top 10 workplace safety violations provides an insight about what the inspectors are looking for.

Read the list and ask yourself: “would OSHA find any of these to be a problem if they inspected my workplace?”

The OSHA workplace violations list for FY2016 drew on information obtained from about 32,000 inspections of workplaces by federal OSHA staff. The categories on the list rarely change. OSHA inspectors see thousands of the same on-the-job hazards year after year. OSHA also notes that more than 4,500 workers are killed on the job every year, and about 3 million workers are injured.

The top 10 are:

1. Fall protection. Fatalities continue to plague the construction industry. OSHA’s data shows that 39.9% of deaths in the industry are fall-related, yet this category continues to be the most common violation found every year. Roofing, framing, and home contractors were the most cited employers. Employers can minimize fall risks with training, stand-downs (taking a break to discuss safety risks with employees), and using OSHA’s fall-prevention campaign.

2. Hazard communication. OSHA saw numerous instances of inadequate training, lack of updated data sheets, and not having a program to address hazard chemical exposure.

3. Scaffolds. Fall protection and scaffolding go hand-in-hand. Framing, roofing, siding, and masonry contractors were among the most commonly cited employers for this violation. Improper assembly and access to scaffolding were often noted.

4. Respiratory protection. Companies were cited after employees wore respirators but were not medically evaluated, were put in situations with overexposure to contaminants, or were not properly fit-tested for respiratory protection. Protection is essential for preventing long-term and sometimes fatal health problems associated with breathing in asbestos, silica, or other toxic substances.

5. Lockout/tagout. The top three instances for which companies were given citations for improper lockout/tagout were employees not trained in proper lockout/tagout procedures, lockout/tagout procedures were nonexistent, and employers failing to perform periodic inspections of lockout/tagout procedures. OSHA reported that proper lockout/tagout procedures make certain that machines are powered off and cannot be turned on, reducing the risk of workplace death.

6. Powered industrial trucks. The agency saw operators who lacked certification, were not trained on the hazards associated with the facility, and did not maintain safe use when operating the vehicle.

7. Ladders. The most common hazards associated with ladder use involved improper use of portable ladders. The ladders were not being used according to their design specifications. Injuries occurred when workers used the top rung as a step and when the ladder had a structural defect. Also, employees were not trained on proper ladder use.

8. Machine guarding. OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Amputations is an effort to reduce the hazards associated with machine and equipment hazards. In addition to machine guarding, investigators saw machinery that was not anchored/fixed as it should be and the use of tools that cause cause hazards.

9. Electrical wiring. Investigators noted unsafe substitutes for permanent wiring and incorrect use of extension cords. They also cited employers for using inappropriate extension cords in places such as wet locations.

10. Electrical, general requirements. The most common offenses include electric equipment not installed properly or not used in accordance with recommended uses. In addition, working space around electric equipment should be unobstructed.



It might be as simple as a walking club.

One of the companies BusinessWest spoke with this month about workplace wellness initiatives (see story HERE) related the fact that several employees get together every day to walk around the block, and that its new facility set to open this fall will be even more amenable to walking, with more natural surroundings and trails nearby.

The idea is, quite simply, to get people moving, away from the typical office worker’s pose, hunched over a desk, staring at a screen, often not even leaving the cubicle for lunch. When people move around and engage in some light exercise during the day, they tend to be fitter, feel better, and become more productive and even happier employees. Allowing them time to take a walk is an investment that pays off for the company in the long term.

And it’s only one way businesses are promoting what’s been called a ‘healthy culture’ at work. There are lunch-and-learn seminars on health and wellness topics. Free or discounted gym memberships, or even exercise facilities in the workplace. Free, healthy snacks in the community kitchen. No-smoking policies. Adjustable desks that allow workers to perform their computer tasks standing up.

Some of these initiatives cost money. But many cost almost nothing, and even the ones with a price tag promise to lower costs exponentially down the road.

The reason touches on a concept called presenteeism, the state of showing up for work, but not performing at full capacity — a state that can be triggered by many things: boredom, apathy, trouble at home, but also not feeling well. According to a Global Corporate Challenge survey on presenteeism, while employees tend to be absent from work for sickness four days a year, they confessed to being unproductive on the job an average of 57 days annually — which, from a bottom-line perspective, costs businesses 10 times what absenteeism costs.

That, in black and white — and red ink — is the financial argument for creating a culture of wellness at work and committing to it for the long term. After all, healthy, happy employees who feel like their employer’s care about their well-being are a powerful force in the workforce, and their satisfaction can be infectious — in the best sense of that term.

Modern Office Sections

Progressive Environment

Cooley Dickinson Health Care is no stranger to environmental awareness, recently earning the Greenhealth Partner for Change award from Practice Greenhealth for the fifth consecutive year.

Practice Greenhealth is the nation’s leading healthcare community dedicated to transforming healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a community anchor for sustainability and a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice.

The Partner for Change award is one of the organization’s Environmental Excellence Awards given each year to honor outstanding environmental achievements in the healthcare sector. The award recognizes healthcare facilities that continuously improve and expand upon their mercury-elimination, waste-reduction, recycling, and source-reduction programs. At minimum, facilities applying for this award must be recycling 15% of their total waste, have reduced regulated medical waste, are well along the way to mercury elimination, and have developed other successful pollution-prevention programs in many different areas.

Among Cooley Dickinson’s recent environmentally friendly practices, it has recycled 65 tons, or 85%, of the construction waste during the construction of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital; replaced kitchen dishwashers, saving 50% of water and energy use; arranged contracts for 3,500 kwh of solar power under a 20-year agreement, which is 30% of CDH’s annual usage; and replaced and upgrade lighting to LED technology in 15,000 square feet of the CDH property.

“Cooley Dickinson’s employees take pride in our sustainability efforts to lessen our impact on the environment and look forward to working with Practice Greenhealth to continue this work across the country.”

“As a Practice Greenhealth Partner for Change Award winner, Cooley Dickinson is committed to improving the health of our patients, staff, and community as a whole,” said Anthony Scibelli, vice president, Operations and chief administrative officer. “Cooley Dickinson’s employees take pride in our sustainability efforts to lessen our impact on the environment and look forward to working with Practice Greenhealth to continue this work across the country.”

Practice Greenhealth recently released its eighth annual Sustainability Benchmark Report, analyzing data from leading hospitals and health systems across the country, giving a snapshot of trends in environmental performance and sustainability in energy, water, toxics, food, and other categories. Among the findings:

• While U.S. hospitals emit an estimated 8% of the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions, in the last three years, the percentage of facilities that have a written plan to address climate-change mitigation has nearly doubled. Also, the percentage of facilities that generate or purchase renewable energy has increased by 81%.

• Hospitals in the U.S. produce more than 4.67 million tons of waste each year. But in the last two years, the percentage of facilities that have taken measures to reduce the generation of pharmaceutical waste has grown by 11%. Leading hospitals are routinely achieving a 30% recycling rate — more than double the early EPA goal of 15%.

• More hospitals are purchasing products with safer chemicals. In 2016, the percentage of hospitals prioritizing furniture and medical furnishings free of halogenated flame retardants, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds, and PVC (vinyl) more than doubled from the previous year. A total of 78% of hospitals have chemical or purchasing policies that identify specific chemicals of concern to human health and the environment, with 79% purchasing certified green cleaning chemicals and 30% indicating they have programs in place to purchase furniture or furnishings that avoid chemicals of concern.

• Currently, U.S. hospitals use more than 7% of the nation’s commercial water supply. However, in the last three years, the percentage of facilities that benchmark water usage has doubled. During that time, there’s also been a 36% increase in the percentage of facilities that have a written plan to reduce water use over time with specific goals and a timeline. However, only 17% of hospitals reported any water-reduction projects in 2015.

“Our annual Sustainability Benchmark Report allows us to share how the nation’s leading hospitals are making progress year after year to improve health and reduce environmental impact while delivering strong financial return,” said Cecilia DeLoach Lynn, director of Sector Performance and Recognition for Practice Greenhealth. “We are proud to see more hospitals than ever appointing sustainability leaders to oversee environmental performance.”

Education Sections

Bringing Classrooms to Life

By Alta J. Stark

Steven O’Brien emceed Western New England University

Steven O’Brien emceed Western New England University’s Student Media Festival, part of his spring internship as chair of the festival.

Today’s college graduates understand it takes much more than book learning to compete in the job market; employers are looking for real-world experience. Students gain that experience through internships in their field, but they gain more than that. BusinessWest spoke with a few from this year’s graduating class who said their internships gave them confidence, inspiration, connections, and, in one case, a whole new career focus.

As thousands of new graduates from the region’s colleges and universities prepare to start their careers in a competitive labor market, the range of their majors is as varied as their diverse backgrounds and talents. But they’re finding it often takes more than a degree to prepare for the work world.

Increasingly, who gets the plum jobs comes down to the work experience students accrue well before they graduate.

“As students transition out of the university into the real world, employers are looking for students with experience,” said Andrea St. James, director of the Career Development Center at Western New England University. “College internships are now a major component in providing students with on-the-job skill sets they need to succeed. We encourage students to get that experience early and often.”

All colleges boast active career centers that help cultivate meaningful and practical experiences for students, but a unique consortium of career-center professionals is bringing it all together in the Pioneer Valley. Comprised of career directors from American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Holyoke Community College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, Western New England University, and Westfield State University, College Career Centers of Western Mass (CCCWM) provides companies and organizations a central venue in which to connect with a pool of potential interns and entry-level candidates located in Western Mass.

“We meet monthly to learn from each other. We want to help students not only build their résumés, but help direct where they may want to take their education when they leave,” said St. James.

CCCWM cross-posts job and internship opportunities, participates in career fairs throughout the year, and educates and empowers students through special events and focus groups, she added. “It’s a great resource to add to the specialized career preparation that’s available to students in their schools’ career centers. We encourage students to start exploring opportunities in their first year because an effective combination of education and career programs is a valuable complement to the academic experience.”

Laurie Cirillo

Laurie Cirillo says her department at Bay Path empowers women to take charge of their own career path.

In addition, career counselors help internship-seeking students make and maintain connections with friends, peers, professors, and alumni who may be helpful in their search. To hear the students tell it, those efforts are paying off.

The Right Channels

As a communications major at Western New England University, Steven O’Brien is learning how to tell stories creatively and effectively. He’s an incoming senior who’s spent the past three years studying mass media, television, radio, online media, and media production. This past spring, he jumped at the chance to turn his academic learning into real-life, hands-on experience.

“Ask anybody who has anything remotely to do with finding a job after college — anybody from the career development center, any of my professors — and they’ll tell you internships are critical because more and more employers, even for entry-level positions, are looking for people who have experience in the field,” he said.

O’Brien chaired WNEU’s 15th annual Student Media Festival, which celebrates student-produced music videos, news reports, newspaper articles, radio programming, commercials, public-service announcements, and digital photography.

“The Media Festival is a huge part of the spring semester for everyone who enters WNE. My focus was to make this the best it could be and do my job well because a lot of people were counting on me to do that,” he said.

SEE: List of Colleges in Western Mass.

He worked closely with Professor Brenda Garton-Sjoberg, who told BusinessWest that internships place students in the driver’s seat to navigate through career options, as well as providing outstanding networking opportunities.

“They allow students to experience a job through academic credit to determine if that’s the best path for their future down the road,” she explained. “I believe internships are essential for anyone, especially students interested in careers in communications.”

Simply put, O’Brien added, “being in the internship environment forces you to either sink or swim. It puts you in a position that, if you don’t have these skills, you have to find them quickly. If you’re not familiar with something, you need to know about it, and you need to learn about it.”

We encourage students to start exploring opportunities in their first year because an effective combination of education and career programs is a valuable complement to the academic experience.”

What O’Brien liked best about the internship was wearing many hats. “It was really a multi-faceted internship that went beyond the norm. It dealt with myriad skills and disciplines from public speaking and PR to marketing, media production, event planning, social-media marketing, and e-mail marketing. To get a taste of each of those, I think, was incredible.”

St. James agreed. “It’s the soft skills that he’s building that all employers value; yes, it’s the networking, the résumé building, but knowing how to manage personalities, the critical thinking, the teamwork, the motivation, communication, the small talk that has to occur to bring this people together — that’s really invaluable.”

O’Brien aced the internship in more ways than his grade. He also networked himself into a paid summer internship with the festival’s media sponsor, Cloud 9 Marketing Group, a fairly new startup founded by a recent WNE graduate.

“I worked with him throughout the entire process, and got to know him,” he said. “After the festival, I e-mailed him to ask if he was looking for interns this summer. We met, and now it looks like I’ll have an internship this summer that grew from my spring internship.”

Gaining Empowerment

Alison Hudson has been performing since she was 3 years old. She says she’s always known she wanted a career that would include her love of the creative arts and her passion for psychology. She graduated from Bay Path University in May, majoring in forensic psychology, with a minor in performing arts. In the fall, she’s going to Lesley University to seek a master’s degree in mental health counseling with a focus on drama therapy.

Hudson said her senior-year internship was critical because it showed her she was on the right path for her future. Specifically, she interned as a residential assistant at Berkshire Hills Music Academy, a live-in community for young adults with developmental disabilities, who gain communication skills through music therapy.

“The students are really wonderful,” she said. “They welcome you into their lives, and it’s very rewarding.”

Tori Bouchard, certified trainer and 2017 Springfield College graduate (left), with Sue Guyer, chair of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at the college.

Tori Bouchard, certified trainer and 2017 Springfield College graduate (left), with Sue Guyer, chair of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at the college.

Prior to her internship, Hudson wanted to work with veterans and rehabilitated criminals, but her work at the academy pointed her in a different direction. “This internship gave me the confidence to take on the challenge of grad school and follow a career path of working with people using performing arts as therapy,” she said.

In fact, helping students build confidence helps them graduate, move on to graduate school, and get a job, said Laurie Cirillo, assistant dean of Student Success at Bay Path’s Sullivan Career & Life Planning Center. “We’re trying to empower women to be in power over their own destiny.”

To help students grow and develop self-reliance, Bay Path has adopted a unique take on the internship experience, which has become a hallmark of the university. “We don’t place our students; they work with a career coach to match themselves,” Cirillo said. “We provide a solid support system and strategies for success, but we’ve found multiple benefits to having students open the doors to the next steps of their lives and careers.”

When Delmarina Lopez entered Bay Path as a freshman, she didn’t think she could do that. The young Latina woman with a love for the public sector recalls that she was ready to transfer out.

“College was a rude awakening for me, academically, culturally, and financially, but President [Carol] Leary wasn’t going to let me go. I received amazing support, guidance, and mentoring. I stayed, and I do not regret it.”

Lopez, who’d already achieved success in her young life as the first high-school-age, community-based intern for former Gov. Deval Patrick, became more active on campus, serving as Leary’s presidential ambassador, as well as president of the Student Government Assoc. She started as a criminal justice major, then switched to legal studies after interning with attorney Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross of Springfield.

“I knew her as one of a handful of Latina leaders in our community. It was good to work with someone who looked like me and has a similar background,” Lopez said. “She taught me the importance of mentoring and bringing someone up with you, not just focusing on yourself. I learned that law isn’t about competition; it’s about justice.”

Lopez applied to multiple law schools across the country and was accepted at 12; she chose to stay close to home, entering Western New England University Law School this fall on a full scholarship.

Cirillo says helping build a woman’s self-efficacy is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. “Many students come here with a lot of self-doubt, but by the end of their college experience, they’re able to stand back and see what they’ve achieved, and what lies ahead as they realize their potential.”

Trainers in Training

Springfield College is well-known for its athletic programs. “We’re preparing students for careers in the fitness and health industry, providing them with classroom and hands-on training from day one,” said Sue Guyer, chair of the school’s Exercise Science and Sport Studies program. “Undergrads and grads work with varying populations, from top-level athletes to still-developing high-school athletes and the elderly, and they’re influencing their lives for the better.”

Tori Bouchard completed six internships during her studies to become a certified athletic trainer. It’s a program requirement to complete a clinical rotation each semester, starting sophomore year.

“Through these rotations, we’re able to connect to patients, coaches, other athletic trainers, and other healthcare professionals, and athletic directors. We’re able to grow as athletic trainers,” Bouchard said. “We’re able to see and meet all sorts of different people. No case is the same. No patient is the same patient. So you take the theories you’re learning in the classroom, and you apply them to the setting, and not everything is always textbook. Nothing is ever textbook, actually. So, sometimes you’re learning one thing, but you realize  — under supervision of the preceptor — ‘oh, this isn’t necessarily going to work for this case, but I also know about this technique.’”

Guyer said it’s impossible to measure the true value of the experiential learning. “It’s invaluable to have the opportunity to mentor into the profession,” she told BusinessWest, noting that the rotations can also have a positive impact at understaffed schools, which may have large populations of student athletes, but just one athletic trainer on staff.

“If Springfield College sends two interns to that high school, they’ve added two qualified people to help maintain the health and well-being of students,” she went on. “What we’ve learned is, if a student is able to see, feel, experience, treat, and rehabilitate athletes, that it really brings the classroom to life.”

Bouchard agreed. “The connections with people are unbelievable,” she said.
“You learn so much just by talking to other people, learning what they’ve learned, and you grow as a person.”

Bouchard has passed her certification exam and is presently looking for a paid internship before heading back to graduate school. “I think I still have more to learn in the clinic,” she said. “I think you’re always learning something new, and I want to learn who I really am when I’m working on my own team without another athletic trainer.”

That is, after all, what the college experience is really about — young people learning who they are, what they can do, and how to realize their potential.

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Hire Expectations


The job market in the region has tightened considerably in recent years, approaching, if not reaching, that state known as full employment. In this environment, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find good help — at least among the ranks of the unemployed — and many are responding to the situation proactively and creatively.

It was almost 17 years ago, but Kevin Lynn can still remember the sense of urgency in the employer’s voice and the impassioned plea for help — any kind of help.

“He just said, ‘get me someone with a beating heart,’” said Lynn, then (and still) director of FutureWorks, the one-stop career center based in Springfield. “That was his lone qualification; he was desperate, to be sure.”

That was in 2000, just before the recession prompted by the bursting of the tech bubble, he told BusinessWest, when the nation, and this region, were pretty much at full employment and companies were struggling mightily to find talented help.

Things are not quite that bad (for employers) or that good (for job seekers) at this moment in time, he added quickly, before offering a very intriguing, if not menacing, qualifier.

“If the economy keeps going the way it’s going, could we be there in a year? Maybe,” he said.

For now, Lynn, like others, would say merely that the job market is as tight as it’s been in a while, maybe since 2000, and certainly since the height of the last recession in 2009.

Kevin Lynn says the tightening of the job market has put many employers in a situation where they need to ‘grow their own’ talent.

Kevin Lynn says the tightening of the job market has put many employers in a situation where they need to ‘grow their own’ talent.

At that time, he noted, there was a very large pool of talented, skilled people looking for work. Now, the pool is seriously depleted, comprised mostly of people with fewer skills, both technical and ‘people,’ and less experience than employers would prefer.

This is the main byproduct of  ‘full employment.’ That’s a term used by economists and others, and it has a definition — actually several of them. The one that prevails goes something like this: ‘a state of the economy in which all eligible people who want to work can find employment at prevailing wages.’

Most economists believe full employment occurs when the unemployment rate is at or just above 4%, which, according to the latest figures, just happens to be the rate nationwide.

But from a practical standpoint, and for the purposes of this discussion, parties are more interested in what full employment, or something close to that, means figuratively, not literally.

For employers, it means challenges — everything from finding and retaining qualified help to rising wages, said Meredith Wise, executive director of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast.

“Employers are beginning to get frustrated with the lack of quality out there, the lack of skills out there,” said Wise, adding that this situation will, in all likelihood (meaning unless there is a dramatic downturn in the economy) become more exacerbated when MGM Springfield begins hiring people in large numbers. That should start happening about a year from now, and there should be quite an impact on the local employment picture (much more on this later).

Nearly full employment also means that many employers are becoming more creative when it comes to such matters as searching for help and developing employees’ skill sets once they arrive, Wise went on, which, overall, is a good thing.

“Employers are looking at the situation and saying, ‘well, if the regular methods for getting employees aren’t working — if I can’t just go out to the employed market — what else can I do?’” she explained. “We’re seeing employers that are trying to get more involved with the schools, trying to get more involved with interns, and other steps. Employers are sensing that, if the regular methods aren’t working, instead of just throwing their hands up and trying to steal people from others, they’re looking at what else they can do.”

Meredith Wise

Meredith Wise

Employers are telling me that the people who are walking through their doors don’t have the skills that they’re looking for.”

Lynn agreed, noting that, in many cases, employers are adopting what he called a ‘grow your own’ philosophy, whereby, instead of holding out for individuals who have the requisite skills upon arrival, they’re opting for taking rawer talent, if you will, and developing it.

He cited the staffing company Snapchef, which recently opened a location in downtown Springfield, as one that embraces a model others will likely have to follow.

“They provide a five-week training course for people who want to get into the food-service business,” he explained. “Individuals learn all the basics, and Snapchef gets people into a job; this is probably the model that more employers are going to have to embrace.”

As for the region as a whole, full or nearly full employment means working harder with those who are still in the labor pool — including some who might have given up on their efforts to re-enter the workforce and are now giving it another go — to help them attain and retain work, said Dave Cruise, executive director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County.

“We’re working hard with those individuals looking to re-enter the market to address barriers that might have prohibited them from getting back in,” he said. “And as we do that, we’re focused not only on identifying candidates for employers, but also on the issue of retention, and dealing with issues now, as opposed to when someone is five or six weeks on a job.”

Work Orders

Lynn calls it the ‘recruiting corner.’

That’s an area at the FutureWorks complex — a table near the main entrance, actually — where area employers will, as that name, suggests, do actual one-on-one recruiting with those who come to the agency for help attaining employment.

At the height of the recession, and in the years after it, for that matter, the recruiting corner wasn’t used much because most companies weren’t hiring, and if they were, job hopefuls were coming to them.

The situation is much different now, obviously, Lynn went on.

“We’re seeing increased demand among employers who want to come and sit there during times of high foot traffic and get some face time in front of potential employees,” he said, adding that the economy is, for the most part, solid, and many companies across a host of economic sectors, are hiring — or at least thinking about it.

Dave Cruise

Dave Cruise says many of those who remain unemployed face one or more barriers to re-entering the workforce.

And what they’re finding as they go about hiring is that the pool of talent is shallow, that most of the individuals they would prefer to hire are already gainfully employed, and that they’re going to have to work harder and be more creative in their efforts to find and retain talent.

The resulting challenges for employers manifest themselves in many ways, from the recruiting corner to the strong interest shown in a job expo to be staged early next month at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“We recently opened registration,” said Lynn. “And as soon as we put that out, we got three or four companies to sign up.”

Locally, as noted, the employment situation is not as tight, or robust, as it is nationally, or certainly in the eastern part of this state.

Larry Martin, director of Employer Services & Engagement with the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, said the unemployment rate in Hampden County is just over 5%, compared to roughly 3.6% for the Commonwealth. In Springfield, meanwhile, still one of the poorest communities in the state, unemployment is at roughly 6.8%.

Both that number and the 5% for the county represent significant improvement over just a few years ago, said Martin, noting that unemployment in Springfield was well above 10% at the height of the recession.

As for the current situation and what it all means, those we talked with started by assessing the constituency that remains unemployed. This is where Cruise made repeated use of that word ‘barriers,’ adding that most all of those out of work and looking for work (some are not) generally face at least one, and perhaps several.

Wise agreed, and summoned that well-worn phrase ‘skills gap’ to describe what employers generally see or perceive from the current workforce, meaning those who are presently unemployed.

“Employers are telling me that the people who are walking through their doors don’t have the skills that they’re looking for,” she explained. “Sometimes this is in manufacturing, when people are looking for someone specific, like machine operators or maintenance people, or other roles. But other times, it’s just the general market — people walking through the doors for receptionist positions or accounting clerk, positions where you don’t need a lot of technical skills, but you need the customer-service skills and people with good work histories.

“A lot of the people who currently make up that 4% are people whose work history is maybe not that great,” she went on. “They may have moved around a lot, or they may have been out of the workforce for a while, so therefore employers are hesitant to bring them back in.”

Work in Progress

Some of those who remain unemployed are older individuals (a term usually used to describe those over 55, although the age varies), who were downsized during the recession and have often struggled to re-enter the workforce or given up altogether.

The tightening of the job market has given some of these older workers the impetus to get back in the hunt for work, said Martin, noting that some face a steep climb because their skills are outdated.

“There were a lot of older individuals who may have been in a particular industry and didn’t have the updated skills, and got discouraged,” he explained.

Wise agreed, but opined that she believes some employers are making a mistake by overlooking or perhaps underestimating some older workers and, more specifically, their desire to return to the workforce at a salary (and rung on the ladder) lower than where they were when they left.

“Employers look at some of those older workers and look at what they had been making and also at what their job responsibilities may have been,” she noted. “And they’re hesitant to bring them into their workforce now, because they’re concerned that the individual may not be satisfied — this person may have been in a managerial position or a position with some responsibility, and is now looking for a lower-level position.

“I think employers are doing themselves a bit of a disservice, because they’re bypassing those people,” she went on. “A lot of those older workers that have been in a position of responsibility … they’re done with that; they don’t want those responsibilities anymore. They want to keep working, and they’re ready to take that step back and do the 9-to-5. And many employers are overlooking those people.”

Others among the unemployed have different barriers, including everything from language to basic skills to transportation, said Cruise, adding that one of the REB’s main focal points at this juncture is working to remove some of those barriers — not just to gaining a job, but to succeeding in one and staying in it.

Elaborating, he said many individuals come to the REB looking for employment, but before they are ready to attain it, they need one or more of the other services provided by the agency — training, education, and various forms of support.

“What we’re finding is that fewer and fewer of the people coming to us are ready, based on our assessment of them, for that top bucket — employment,” he explained. “They may come in looking for employment, but we’re finding that in many cases they need training, and prior to that, they need education, such as basic mathematical skills.”

They also need some of those softer ‘people’ skills, he added, adding that the workforce of today is different from the ones years ago in that teamwork and the ability to work in tandem with others, as well as the ability to perform many different tasks, are far more important.

“It’s no longer a situation where you park your car, punch in, and go to your workstation and stay there, in isolation, until your lunch break,” he explained. “That doesn’t exist anymore, and for a lot of people trying to re-enter the workforce, it’s a matter of educating them to a different work culture and the necessity of them working in team-type situations and having the skills to move from task to task.”

Rolling the Dice

As the pool of unemployed workers shrinks and become less qualified, several forces come into play, said Wise, adding that employers must be focused not only on attaining new help, but retaining existing help.

Indeed, in such cycles, competition for those with skills and good work habits naturally intensifies as the advantage clearly shifts from employees to workers, she went on, adding that this dynamic is reflected in rising wages and benefits.

They’re not going up dramatically in this region, but they are rising, she said, noting that, while most companies weren’t giving any raises at all during the recession and the year or two after it (in fact, wage cuts were common) and then giving increases of only a percentage point or two, most are giving raises averaging 2.5% to 3%.

“That’s been pretty consistent for the past few years,” Wise said. “And in many industries, it’s closer to 2.8% or 3% than 2% or 2.5%.”

These wage hikes reflect the heightened competition for good help, said Lynn, adding, again, that in this environment, most people who are seeking employment and have desired skills are already gainfully employed.

“If you talk about people who have solid work histories and skill sets … if companies want what we’ll call a ‘fully formed’ employee, they’re pretty much looking at stealing from other employers,” he told BusinessWest. “Those who are still looking for work are facing barriers to employment, and in general, we have to train that group up to a point where they’re attractive to an employer.”

This brings him back to that notion of companies having to ‘grow their own,’ as he put it, and get someone in the door and do more training, rather than hope to find someone who already has all the requisite skills.

“I think we’re at a point where companies need to reconsider how they bring people in,” he explained. “We’re coming into a period where companies who are successful at attracting people are going to have to do more training; they’re going to have to look at people and say, ‘this person has the raw material — they may not have everything, but they have the ability to learn, and we’re going to have to grow our own.”

This situation should become more exacerbated within the next 12 to 15 months as MGM Springfield, scheduled to open in the fall of 2018, begins to assemble a workforce projected to number 3,000, said Lynn.

He said several sectors, especially financial services (bank tellers and others), food service, and the broad hospitality industry are certainly vulnerable to losing valuable employees to the casino.

And if the current trends with regard to the job market continue, backfilling those individuals lost to MGM could prove quite challenging.

“The backfill is the most crucial thing — how are we going to deal with those vacancies?” he asked. “Banks have something to worry about, based on what we’ve seen when other casinos have opened — tellers have left for those jobs because of the flexibility; you can give someone an off shift. And anything involving food and restaurants — because they’re having trouble finding people now.

“If you add another major player into the mix, and their wages are more than competitive, that will be problematic for employers,” he said, adding that their woes could be further compounded by another casino slated to open in Northern Conn.

Wise agreed, and noted that, while the casino’s opening is more than a year away, it certainly isn’t too early for employers to start thinking about what might happen and reacting in a proactive manner. Some are doing just that, she went on, but others, caught up in today, tomorrow, next week, and maybe next month, aren’t able or willing to focus on the fall of 2018 just yet.

“There are still organizations thinking, ‘I need to get through this month,’ or ‘I need to get through this year, and the casino’s not coming for another year,’” she told BusinessWest. “They’re thinking they’ll worry about that down the road, and that may be short-sighted.”

Bottom Line

Lynn said that, to the best of his knowledge, no one has called FutureWorks recently putting in an order for someone possessing only a beating heart.

The market has, indeed, tightened, but conditions are not yet approximating those of 2000 and the years that followed.

But as the steady use of the recruiting corner and the early registration for that job expo clearly show, employers are facing challenges, and they’re responding, in many cases, with creativity and maybe a mild dose of desperation.

No one really knows what will happen in the months to come, but it appears likely that conditions will only worsen — for employers, anyway — before they improve.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]