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Workforce Development

Workforce Development

Expanding the Talent Pipeline

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes speaks during the announcement of the $5 million grant from the MassTech Collaborative.

Leaders from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, also known as MassTech, recently announced a $5 million award from the Healey-Driscoll administration to UMass Amherst to help create an open-access additive manufacturing and design/testing facility on campus.

The grant, from the Collaborative Research and Development (R&D) Matching Grant Program, will augment UMass Amherst’s capabilities in the advanced-manufacturing space and increase its collaboration with universities across Massachusetts around research and development for advanced optical technologies, which have applications in biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental monitoring, and general electronics.

“The Healey-Driscoll administration is committed to building a more dynamic manufacturing ecosystem by supporting research and development opportunities across the state,” said Secretary Yvonne Hao of the Executive Office of Economic Development. “This investment will help connect leading innovators, foster workforce opportunities, promote creative problem solving, and accelerate the potential for breakthroughs in a field that underpins so many other essential industries.”

Carolyn Kirk, executive director of MassTech, added that “this investment is another example of Massachusetts’ commitment to strengthening innovative technologies and making R&D tools more accessible to growing businesses, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs across the state, providing opportunities that would normally be cost-prohibitive. Placing it at our flagship university, which has a track record of proven success and partnerships in the advanced-manufacturing space, made perfect sense. When we invest in technical training at a leading institution like this, we can expand training opportunities and the talent pipeline to manufacturing careers, helping diversify our workforce and the ability of the state to compete on a global scale.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the state’s recent award of $19.7 million in funding through the federal CHIPS and Science Act to expand production of microelectronics in the Northeast, work that will benefit from increased R&D in related sectors, including advanced optical technologies.

“We’re proud to make this investment in UMass Amherst to help establish a first-of-its-kind open-access facility that will expand our capability for innovation and strengthen training opportunities in a sector that will be so critical to the future of our economy.”

“Optical technologies are essential in the 21st century, acting as the backbone for transformational industries ranging from semiconductors to mobile technologies, medicine to national defense,” said Pat Larkin, director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech, which manages the collaborative R&D grant program. “That’s why it is critically important to expand collaboration and partnerships in this space, to encourage increased engagement between research institutions and private industry. We’re proud to make this investment in UMass Amherst to help establish a first-of-its-kind open-access facility that will expand our capability for innovation and strengthen training opportunities in a sector that will be so critical to the future of our economy.”

The facility will be the first publicly accessible facility of its kind in the country and will support testing, research, and production of advanced optical technologies. Through the project, UMass Amherst will collaborate with Electro Magnetic Applications Inc. (EMA), which specializes in the testing and design of materials used in space and operates at the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) in Pittsfield, and other industry partners, as well as Northeastern University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Berkshire Community College. The BIC will act as a bridge between industry, academia, and government to help develop an additive-manufacturing talent pipeline by providing workforce-development opportunities for students and young professionals.

“For 160 years, UMass Amherst has been an incubator for revolutionary thinking and big ideas,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said. “Today we further this legacy as we celebrate advancements in precision optics, coatings, and metalens technologies in Western Mass. and prepare to establish an advanced optics manufacturing and characterization facility right here at UMass. By bringing together leading scientists, engineers, researchers, and industry partners, this new facility will accelerate the development and adoption of these transformative technologies.”

UMass Amherst will also use the grant to fund a full wafer imprint tool, which is a low-cost, high-resolution, nano-imprinting lithography device that generates patterns for various applications, a technology that is not currently available in any public facility in the U.S. This investment will provide a singular opportunity for research and collaboration for companies and institutions in Massachusetts.

“The state of Massachusetts and MassTech continue to prioritize investing in critical technologies and capabilities within the Commonwealth,” said Justin McKennon, principal scientist ii and the co-principal investigator for this project on behalf of EMA. “It sets the state apart as a place that not only welcomes, but believes in the companies that reside here. At EMA, we understand that any new technology requires the ability demonstrate it can work in harsh environments, and with our test and simulation capabilities, we are beyond excited to play a key role in helping companies in and around the Commonwealth to prove out their technologies in space and other harsh environments.”

The Collaborative R&D Matching Grant Program has awarded nearly $60 million to projects across the state that have leveraged more than $180 million in matching contributions from project partners. This includes 20 projects that have supported innovative industry and academic collaborations and investments in novel R&D infrastructure to bolster the Massachusetts tech and innovation economy.

The grant program has supported projects in emerging industries such as cloud computing, quantum computing, marine robotics, printed electronics, cybersecurity and data science, and nanomaterials and smart sensors. These investments have led to more than 80 industry partnerships and 60 intellectual-property and licensing agreements in the past two years.


Education Special Coverage Workforce Development

Striking Results

Jasmine Kerrissey acknowledged that, when it comes to labor and business management, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to chart who’s winning and losing the various types of skirmishes between the two sides and post standings, as they do in sports.

But if they did … labor would be enjoying a sizable lead in the standings as this year comes to a close.

Indeed, there have been some recent — and significant — wins for the labor movement in this country, said Kerrissey, associate professor of Sociology and director of the UMass Labor Center, and co-author of the recently released book Union Booms and Busts: The Ongoing Fight Over the U.S. Labor Movement. She cited recent strikes involving United Auto Workers (UAW), who won 25% wage gains from Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis; employees at UPS; and TV and film actors and writers, among others, as well as union campaigns at large employers such as Amazon, Starbucks, REI, and Trader Joe’s.

In a word, labor is enjoying a large dose of momentum and one of the most pronounced ‘booms’ in recent times, she said.

“The number of strikes, and the number of new types of elections and new union organizing, is much higher than it’s been in the last several decades,” Kerrissey noted. “And many of those elections and strikes are being won by workers.

“Momentum is really important,” she went on. “And we should never underestimate momentum; when other workers see other workers winning, it’s really powerful, and it inspires others to think that they might be able to do the same.”

“Momentum is really important. And we should never underestimate momentum; when other workers see other workers winning, it’s really powerful, and it inspires others to think that they might be able to do the same.”

This momentum was perhaps best exemplified in early September when President Biden joined the UAW picket line at a General Motors plant in Michigan — the first time in U.S. history that a sitting president had done so. (Presidents have traditionally worked to broker deals, not take sides in labor disputes.)

Wearing a UAW cap and toting a bullhorn, Biden said of automakers’ profits after receiving federal assistance, “now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what — you should be doing incredibly well, too.”

Such sentiments, the notion that workers should be doing as well as the CEOs running these large corporations, are at the heart of labor’s recent surge, said Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle, a labor attorney at the Springfield-based Royal Law Firm, who represents businesses in such matters.

Jasmine Kerrissey says labor is enjoying some real momentum in 2023

Jasmine Kerrissey says labor is enjoying some real momentum in 2023, especially though victories in several recent, high-profile strikes.

Elaborating, she said that, while the 25% wage hikes won by the auto workers during their month-long strike are certainly an aberration, such a figure emboldens workers in other industries and instills what she called “overexaggerated fear” among employers, including those in the 413.

“Those numbers are extraordinary,” she said. “Usually, when you see these union pay increases, we’re talking 3% to 8%, with 8% being the max. These 25% increases … I honestly don’t think we have that to fear locally, but … there is that public sentiment.”

Indeed, workers are further emboldened by seemingly endless headlines concerning the salaries of CEOs — and by the ongoing workforce crunch that is impacting virtually every sector of the economy, putting a premium on retention of talent.

“With the tight labor market, people can’t find workers — people don’t want to do the traditional jobs anymore,” Cannon-Eckerle said. “Employers need employees, so they do have that leverage, that bargaining power. And with this crunch being in the public, workers know it, and they feel it.”

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently announced new union election rules and issued six significant union- and employee-favorable decisions that, among other things, make it easier for unions to gain the right to represent employees, redefine the standard for what constitutes concerted activity subject to protection under the NLRB, and substantially heighten employers’ collective-bargaining obligations.

“The NLRB has also shortened the period from election time to when to when it actually happens, so it can come hard, and it can come fast. You have one upset employee that you’re tiptoeing around, and before you know it, you have someone who’s asked for there to be a union election, and within 14 days, it’s happening. That’s scary for employers, and it should be.”

“The NLRB has also shortened the period from election time to when to when it actually happens, so it can come hard, and it can come fast,” Cannon-Eckerle added. “You have one upset employee that you’re tiptoeing around, and before you know it, you have someone who’s asked for there to be a union election, and within 14 days, it’s happening. That’s scary for employers, and it should be.”

For this issue and its focus on workforce and education, BusinessWest looks at the momentum that labor is enjoying at present, what it means, and what might come next.


Labor Gains

What labor is enjoying now would certainly qualify as a boom, said Kerrissey, who told BusinessWest there have been a number of upsurges and periods of retraction since 1900, the period studied for her book, co-written with Judith Stephan-Norris, professor emerita in the Department of Sociology at the University of California Irvine.

That book was essentially finished before the pandemic, she said, adding that the scene has changed dramatically since it was sent it to the printer.

“When we were writing this book, it was hard to imagine that we would be in a boom period like this, but here we are,” she said. “It has been great timing for this book, and it’s been really exciting to apply some of the historical lessons to the present day.”

Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle

Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle says that, in the current labor climate, the best quality employers can display is transparency.

Kerrissey said booms are defined by momentum on several different fronts. Successful strikes — with success meaning that workers were able to win all or most of what they were asking for when they went to the picket lines — are easily the most visible.

And there have been many of those over this past year and in many different industries, said Kerrissey, citing the UAW strike, the averted UPS strike — a settlement that was reached gave more than 300,000 workers represented by the Teamsters significant wage hikes and new minimums — and the new contracts won by actors and screenwriters. But there have also been “successful” strikes in healthcare — In October, Kaiser Permanente struck a deal with a coalition of unions granting them 21% wage increases over the next four years — and many teacher strikes, including several in Massachusetts, that have garnered higher wages, especially for paraprofessionals.

But momentum is visible in other fronts as well, Kerrissey said, including what she called a “wave” of new union organizing over the past few years, elections that go through the National Labor Relations Board.

“These have stood out, both because it’s more workers doing these elections, but it’s also in industries that have typically not had a lot of union presence,” she said, listing the action at Starbucks as both the most visible and impactful example of such movement, with more than 300 locations across the country now unionized and the total of represented workers approaching 10,000.

But there have been others as well, including Trader Joe’s, Amazon, Chipotle, and REI, the camping and outdoor sports equipment retailer.

“That’s a real shift to have those types of elections in industries that have long been non-union,” Kerrissey told BusinessWest, adding quickly that workers in those industries, while now unionized, have mostly had a difficult time bringing companies to the table to negotiate.

“The bottom line is … if workers are happy, they’re not going to strike. If your employees are happy, they don’t feel like they need to organize. Usually, it’s one or two people that are upset about something and start to gather their forces, and they start nodding their heads and say, ‘yeah, you’re right, we do deserve more.’”

And while some numbers are trending upward, she went on, overall union representation is relatively flat, if not actually declining.

Indeed, according to the NLRB, union petitions increased 3% in fiscal 2023 compared to 2022, with 2022 seeing a 53% increase in union election petitions from the previous year. However, U.S. union membership declined to 10.1% in 2022 from 10.3% in 2021, the lowest on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although the number of workers belonging to unions increased by 273,000 workers to 14.3 million in 2022, the total number of workers in the U.S. workforce grew by 5.3 million, resulting in the drop in union density.

Those numbers show that, while labor is enjoying momentum, there is still room for more improvement, Kerrissey said.

“The next big hurdle is making the playing field more even for working people, and that comes down to labor policy,” she said. “The labor policy we have in this country is antiquated, and it’s been hard to change; the basic structure is still from the 1930s. But work has changed a lot since then.”

“It’s been quite difficult to make an updated, 21st-century labor policy,” she went on. “And I think some of the strikes are in reaction to that — there are few alternatives.”

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to project what will happen short- and long-term.

“It’s hard to make predictions,” she said. “Historically, when workers are striking and winning, union membership also surges — those two things are correlated. But it’s really hard to look too far into the future.”


Labor Pains

While long-term projections may be cloudy, Cannon-Eckerle said it’s rather easy to look short-term and see a time (it’s already here, actually) when it is much easier for unions to gain the right to represent employees, and for an election to come much more quickly.

Indeed, as she recapped the changes made by the NLRB in September, she said they have the potential to be as impactful as any of the recent strikes and could cause some real anxiety among employers.

The NLRB decisions, which came down in one hectic week in late August, bring significant changes to the landscape and essentially enable unions to get faster elections, make it easier to show that individual employee comments or actions constitute concerted activity, and limit past practice as a justification for unilateral changes, she explained, adding that these are all clear wins for employees and unions.

Summing them all up, Cannon-Eckerle said, “my clients are afraid — and they should be. They don’t know what they’re allowed to say or not allowed to say; there’s a gray line about whether you can actually say something to somebody, even if they’re being disruptive to the workplace.

“The fear is, ‘am I not going to be able to police the conduct of my employees, because they’re essentially allowed to say and do whatever they want?’” she went on. “And it just takes that one really upset or really vocal employee to create that pre-storm, if you will.”

That pre-storm is the series of events that can lead to a union election, she said, adding that the NLRB decisions can bring one about faster and more easily than perhaps ever before. In essence, the new rule resurrects what was known as the ‘ambush election’ process, which inhibits employers’ ability to educate their workforces about union representation and adequately prepare for union elections — hence the term.

In such a climate, businesses large and small should be focused on transparency, she said, adding quickly that this doesn’t necessarily mean wide-open books but does mean being open and honest about the financial big picture and a detailed explanation of revenues and expenses.

“If you explain to your workforce, ‘here’s what our budget is, and here’s the cost of each employee,’” she began, noting that this means the full cost of each employee, meaning salary, benefits, training, and more. “Most employees don’t know that; they understand budgets, and they understand what it costs to run their households, most likely, but they don’t fully understand everything that goes into charging $7 for a cup of coffee.”

Overall, Cannon-Eckerle said, business owners and managers should do what they can to impress upon workers that they are valued and heard when it comes to the issues that impact them, meaning everything from wages to working conditions to flexibility around where people work.

“The bottom line is … if workers are happy, they’re not going to strike,” she noted. “If your employees are happy, they don’t feel like they need to organize. Usually, it’s one or two people that are upset about something and start to gather their forces, and they start nodding their heads and say, ‘yeah, you’re right, we do deserve more.’

“The way to control that, first of all, is to right your ship; you have to make sure that your house is in order at your company,” she went on. “If it’s not, maybe there’s justification for the union cozying up to the workforce.”

Special Coverage Workforce Development

Fired Up

By Elizabeth Sears


Betsy Allen-Manning

Betsy Allen-Manning

Tunde Oyeneyin

Tunde Oyeneyin

Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

The Women’s Leadership Conference is turning up the heat this year.

When Bay Path University’s signature annual conference returns to the MassMutual Center on Thursday, April 6, the theme will be “Ignite” — an extension of last year’s theme of “Reimagine.” The goal, simply put, is to ignite the post-pandemic professional plans of conference attendees and help turn them into reality.

“Last year, it felt important to bring the community back together to reimagine what may come next that may have shifted over COVID and from being away from the office place,” said Melissa Welch, Communications and Content director at Bay Path and co-chair of this year’s Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC). “That went so beautifully last year, with people in the community coming together to reimagine what came next for them. So this year, how do we build on that? How do we bring that same excitement and motivation back to the community?”

Bay Path President Sandra Doran echoed this sentiment.

“We want them to reignite their passion,” she said. “They’re professional women looking to further their career, looking to further their own professional journey, whether it’s in their existing career or looking outside of that. And this is the place to do it.”

The university’s 26th annual conference will feature TV host Robin Roberts and several other speakers (more on them later). The conference typically draws attendees not only from the Pioneer Valley, but from Eastern Mass., Connecticut, New York — anywhere within driving distance, due to the power of the speakers and the power of community.

“This is a new group, a new community … they’ve got their work community, they’ve got their family community, but now maybe they have a professional-development community. That is incredibly powerful,” Doran said. “If you are a mid-level manager or somebody who’s looking to executive leadership, or somebody who’s just entering into your career, and you’re trying to figure out, ‘what are those skills? What are those attitudes? What’s that growth mindset that is going to propel me to success in the workforce?’ Those are the professionals that you will find in the audience.”

“It’s very much experiential. Some people describe it as transformative. Some people describe it as the only conference they go to in any year because of the value that it brings to them personally as well as professionally. “

She explained that people keep coming back year after year because they’ve experienced growth, and they want to share that growth with others in the room. The conference provides a unique environment — a sort of support system — where professionals can share how they’ve grown in their career, and what comes next on that journey.

And this isn’t a conference where people just come and sit in rows to listen to speakers, Doran continued.

“It’s very much experiential. Some people describe it as transformative. Some people describe it as the only conference they go to in any year because of the value that it brings to them personally as well as professionally. I can’t emphasize enough how this is not a conference where we’ve just got 1,400 chairs lined up in a room. It is not that — everybody sits at a table. Every table is a conversation topic around something to do with personal or professional growth.”


Face Value

This is the second year WLC has returned since a two-year absence during the pandemic. With such a deep focus on the experiential quality of the conference, a virtual alternative was simply not an option, so no conference at all was held in 2020 or 2021.

“I think what was telling in the pandemic is a lot of things stopped, so in our case, our conference stopped for two years — and to come back last year and have 1,400 people come … people missed it so much over those two years,” said Karen Woods, Bay Path’s assistant vice president of Brand Strategy, Marketing, and Integrated Communications and WLC co-chair.

In addition to individuals who buy tickets to attend, Woods noted that companies call in inquiring about the upcoming conference far in advance. Businesses eagerly await to hear who the speakers each year will be and buy tables for their employees, knowing the professional-development value the conference holds.

Sandra Doran emphasizes the interactive nature of the conference, which is not a place to sit in rows and just listen.

Sandra Doran emphasizes the interactive nature of the conference, which is not a place to sit in rows and just listen.

Indeed, this year’s keynote speakers come from vastly different backgrounds and careers, but share something in common: the ability to ignite motivation in others.

The conference will begin with a motivational and humorous talk from author and speaker Betsy Allen-Manning that will guide attendees through exercises that aim to set the tone of the conference and ignite a day of learning. The founder of Corporate Culture Training Solutions, a leadership-training company, she specializes in creating positive employee experiences as well as developing leaders who are equipped to handle a hyper-competitive marketplace.

“Success doesn’t necessarily mean the top person in the company,” Woods said of the first keynote session. “Every single one of us needs that secret sauce to our own success, and how do we get there?”

The luncheon keynote talk will be given by Tunde Oyeneyin, a cycling and bike boot-camp instructor from Peloton who has become known for her empowering and motivational cycling sessions.

Oyeneyin was a professional makeup artist for 15 years, but after lifting the confidence of her clients through her beauty skills for so long, she realized that her true calling was in motivating others. She became a cycling instructor in Los Angeles and ended up being hired onto Peloton’s instructor team. She trains up to 20,000 riders per day through her live motivational classes. Now, she’s taking to the WLC stage to spark the energy of attendees and bring forward their inner passions.

“When you’re going to ignite new business plans, and you’re going to bring those forward, whether it’s personal or professional goals, you really need to have that ability to trust your gut — to find your voice, to be able to advocate for what’s next in your career,” Woods said.

The day will end with a keynote talk from Roberts, well-known as a Good Morning America co-anchor, Emmy Award and People’s Choice Award winner, author, entrepreneur, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, among other achievements. She’s going from the screen to the stage for a moderated Q&A session with Doran.

“We are so excited to introduce Robin Roberts to our WLC audience,” Woods said. “Everything she has done has been a way to ignite what’s next. From the court, when she played basketball, through all of her interviews, those that she’s spoken with and worked with over the years, to writing books — award winners — she’s the perfect person to end our day.”


Breaking Out

The conference will also feature four breakout sessions offering lessons and activities designed to give attendees valuable takeaways that can be applied to their professional lives.

Session A, titled “Forging and Managing the Hybrid Workspace” and led by Alexandra Samuel, will address how attendees can better navigate the hybrid workspace culture that emerged post-COVID. Samuel is an author and digital-workplace expert who seeks to help her audience solve the puzzle of balancing in-person and remote work in hopes of making the now-popular hybrid format a more viable piece of their workday.

Session B is called “Igniting Your Innovation and Understanding Your Onlyness” and will be presented by author and speaker Nilofer Merchant. She will discuss the concept of ‘onlyness’ — identifying what you alone bring to the table that somebody else can’t, what makes you stand out in the workplace, and how to find power in this self-knowledge. Merchant will help attendees discover their ‘onlyness’ and teach them how to socialize it to create real change.

Session C is titled “You’ve Got the Seat at the Table, Now What?” and will be led by Pirie Jones Grossman, a TedX speaker, author, and life-empowerment coach. She will offer an extension to the common conversation of how to reach corporate positions as a woman — and what to do once there. Sharing her research, she will challenge the idea that successful women in the corporate world need to show up like men, instead offering information on the unique leadership instincts and strengths of women’s brains.

Session D is called “The Power of Inclusive Leadership,” and will be led by Juliet Hall, an advisor, leadership consultant, speaker, and author. Objectives of this session include how workplaces can transform their leadership teams to build a strong foundation and promote equity, how workplaces can adjust their internal work teams to create a more inclusive environment for their employees, understanding unconscious bias and microaggressions, and how leaders can remodel internal culture.

For more information on the 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference, visit www.baypath.edu/events-calendar/womens-leadership-conference.

Workforce Development

Learning Experience


Aundrea Paulk

Aundrea Paulk says no one should think they know everything about leadership.

Aundrea Paulk says many of her friends and colleagues call her a “sponge.” And she likes to use that phrase herself.

She believes it conveys what she considers to be a real and almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge and insight into how she can be a better leader, a better entrepreneur — and a better person.

“I like to learn … and I don’t think anyone gets to, or should get to, a place where they get comfortable and think they know it all when it comes to leadership,” said Paulk, director of Marketing & Communications for Caring Health Center in Springfield and owner of her own event-planning business called Soiree Mi. “Leadership is so expansive, and not only here at the Caring Health Center, but with my own business, I want to make sure that I’m constantly filling my well with knowledge so that, as a leader, I can show up in my best capacity, but also give those nuggets, as they call them, to others that are looking to grow their own leadership skills.”

It was this ongoing quest for knowledge — and desire to pass on those ‘nuggets’ — that prompted Paulk to put her name into consideration last fall when BusinessWest was gifting a slot at the two-day, immersive Dulye Leadership Experience (DLE) in the Berkshires.

Her self-nomination was one of many received by the magazine, and it certainly resonated with those deciding who would partake in this program of intense learning, networking, and professional development.

Paulk, a member of BusinessWest’s Forty Under 40 class of 2022, said she made the very most of her experience and came away with nuggets to share, a better appreciation of the need to sell herself and not just her company — or companies, in this case — and, overall, some solid takeaways on how to be a better, more effective leader.

“After completing the Dulye Leadership Experience immersion training, I learned how to better lead my department and, more importantly, how to recognize the strengths that I already have and better utilize them,” she said. “As the owner of Soiree Mi, it is important that I tap into those strengths to grow my business to develop relationships and gain partnerships that will enhance the overall community. These partnerships have allowed Soiree Mi to move from its infancy stage into an established, successful entity.”

Elaborating, Paulk said she and her staff recently conducted their own day-long retreat at Caring Health Center, and a good portion of the agenda focused on topics that were brought up at the DLE immersion training, including well-being, improved communication, and “networking with a purpose.”


Dive Right In

The DLE, as noted earlier, is a two-day, immersive program. It was conceived by Linda Dulye, founder of Dulye & Co., which helps leaders and their organizations cultivate magnetic cultures where employees want to stay and grow. During a painfully slow period for the company in the fall of 2008, their height of the Great Recession, she created the DLE, a nonprofit organization, to help recent college graduates be more workforce-ready and able to form relationships and sell themselves.

Over the years, the DLE evolved, and programming shifted to attract, develop, and retain young professionals in the Berkshires. The descriptions of the programs offered during the immersion provide real insight into how it helps attendees grow professionally and thrive in the modern workplace.

“The workplace has become more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic,” reads the summation for a program titled “Create Connections for Differences.” “These changes create opportunities for growth, learning, and creativity, but they also cause disconnection. This session reveals strategies for working across and with differences to increase effectiveness, belongingness, creativity, and communication.”

A program called “(Re)train Your Communication Muscle” was described this way: “The pandemic has atrophied our social muscles — so much so that many find it difficult to interact with others. We have to retrain ourselves to work better. Fortunately, these muscles are resilient.”

The session was led by Marc Williams, communications coach and author of the books Beyond Limitations and The Rules of Engagement for Public Speaking. Paulk said she found the session helpful, and Williams even more so, especially when it came to the broad assignment of branding herself and building that brand.

She said one assignment attendees were given was to evaluate and update their professional LinkedIn page, and to fully understand its importance when it comes to their ‘brand.’

“We had to assess what we thought other people did without asking them, by just looking at their profile,” she explained while recalling the exercise. “What we found is that most of us don’t use our LinkedIn pages unless we’re looking for a job — that’s the only time people really go in and update it.

“That’s not what we should be doing,” she went on. “We should be making sure our professional and personal brand are on point. He [Williams] assessed and provided great feedback and evaluation of my page and how I can improve it.”

But the session she found most compelling, and the one that probably yielded the most ‘nuggets,’ she said, was one titled “Create a Culture of Well-being Within Your Team,” led by Andrea Lein, a self-described “positive psychology expert.”

“More employees are citing well-being as a key factor in deciding where and how they choose to work,” reads the brief description. “Experts believe we are transitioning to the next global crisis: a mental-health pandemic. Are you and your organization ready?”

Paulk said the session gave her plenty to think about when it comes to being ready, and it is prompting her to be more proactive on this issue.

“I always thought of well-being as self-care and the physical side of the equation,” she told BusinessWest. “I forgot about the importance of social well-being, communication as well-being, how we talk to one another; is it positive?”

Elaborating, she said that, while she still asks her staff members how their weekend went, she now looks to go deeper and find out how people are doing with their physical health, their financial health, their mental health, and how they are faring as they try to balance life and work.


Knowledge Is Power

Overall, Paulk said her willingness to take part in the leadership immersion program is a logical expression of her desire to continue learning and refine and build upon her leadership skills, something she believes all young professionals — and even those not quite so young — should be doing.

“The importance of continuing to develop your skills is critical to you as a human being and to what you want to put out in the world, the legacy you want to leave behind,” she explained. “If I stay stuck in a way of thinking or in the way I show up, I’m doing a disservice to myself; I’m doing a disservice to those I’m supposed to be in charge of and help grow.

“That’s why I continue to learn,” she went on. “I feel like there’s never a time in my life — I don’t care if I’m 100 — that I want to stop learning, and learning in different ways.”

That’s why she wanted to be at the Dulye Leadership Experience in November, and that’s why she’s a sponge, always looking to fill her well with knowledge.

Workforce Development

More Than Clothes

Maria Pelletier found confidence — and a job — with the help of Dress for Success.

Applying for jobs can be a daunting task, especially if one does not have the right tools or preparation to nail the interview. Dress for Success, an international not-for-profit organization, is working toward helping low- to middle-income women achieve economic independence by boosting confidence and providing valuable skills, a network of support, and the right suit to get the job done — literally.

When Maria Pelletier lost her job in August 2017 — the first time she had ever been fired in her life — she felt like she hit rock bottom.

“It was the last thing I was expecting,” she said. “It really set me back and made me question who I am and what I’m able to do.”

Pelletier began collecting unemployment, and although she was applying for jobs, she wasn’t getting hired, and she couldn’t figure out why.

“I was just doubting myself,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘why are they not hiring me? What is going on?’”

“We’re finding out where they want to work, how we can get them in the door, and what’s their path to move up the ladder and have career success, because ultimately, our goal is to help women gain economic independence.”

Fortunately, she stumbled upon a program called Dress for Success Western Massachusetts, which she says gave her the confidence she needed to get back on track. When asked about her journey through the program, Pelletier had three short words: “where to begin?”

The most important thing Dress for Success did for her was get her confidence back up. Pelletier applied and went through the Foot in the Door program, a course that helps women enter the workforce. She was able to get a job part-time at the Post Office while going to classes for the program.

Then, in April 2018, she got a full-time job as lead Client Service specialist at Baystate Medical Center, and has been working there ever since. In that role, she answers phone calls coming into the hospital, and hopes to continue to learn more about her department and grow into new responsibilities.

“The interview skills and the classes we were taught reinforced on my skills I already had,” she said. “It was just bringing it back out to the forefront and saying, ‘yes, you can do this.’”

Sense of Sisterhood

That, said Executive Director Margaret Tantillo, is exactly what Dress for Success is about — giving women the confidence they need to get into the workforce, whether it is their first time or they need a little help to get back out there.

While the name entails part of the organization’s mission, to supply women with clothing for a job interview — or a few days of outfits once a job is secured — from the Dress for Success boutique at the Eastfield Mall, this is only part of the mission. “The suit is the vehicle, or just one aspect of what we’re able to do,” Tantillo said.

She told BusinessWest there are two workforce-development programs, and a third on the way, designed to help women become financially independent and confident in themselves.

Foot in the Door, launched in 2016 to help underemployed and unemployed women enter the workforce, is a collaboration between Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College instructors, who provide training on the interpersonal skills that are necessary for any workplace.

Margaret Tantillo says Dress for Success offers women a community of support — a sisterhood of sorts.

Within three months of graduating from this program, 70% of women, on average, are either in school and/or working, Tantillo explained. Program directors also make sure to prioritize putting women in jobs that are the right fit for them.

“We really work with our participants to find out what their interest is and what their skillset is,” said Tantillo. “We’re finding out where they want to work, how we can get them in the door, and what’s their path to move up the ladder and have career success, because ultimately, our goal is to help women gain economic independence.”

Having a good relationship with employers and referring agencies in the region is a big part of this, and Tantillo said practice interviews are available for women who finish the program successfully so they can receive feedback before going into the real interview. Some even get jobs right from the practice round.

On a more personal level, Dress for Success offers the Margaret Fitzgerald one-on-one mentorship program for women who are looking for jobs or recently entered the workforce. Each participant is paired with a professional woman in the community to work with on an individual basis.

“They are able to form a relationship so they can guide and support women in terms of whatever their unique, individual need is,” said Tantillo, adding that the program recently received an anonymous donation of $25,000. “The women who have come through that have had some really good results.”

She added that having a role model is a big part of women finding success in the programs, as many of them have not been fortunate enough to have role models in their lives.

The name of the program comes from a female mentor herself. Margaret Fitzgerald was a secretary and the only woman in the Physics department at Mount Holyoke College in the 1970s. She was called “mom” by many of the women enrolled in that program and acted as a mentor, advocate, and friend to the students. The female leaders in this program hope to do the same thing for their participants.

The newest program, The Professional Women’s Group, is set to launch in January 2020 with help from Eversource. It will focus on promoting employment retention and career advancement by providing valuable information, tools, and resources while creating a safe environment for participants to network with other professionals.

“They have a real sense of responsibility because what they do doesn’t just impact them, it impacts the next person we refer to that employer. It’s interesting to see how people respond when they feel like they’re part of something bigger.”

This group of women will be recruited from other programs and aims to help them especially in the first six months of a job, which are critical in terms of how people perform.

“The unemployment rate is lower, so there are more people in jobs that need the instruction and guidance about how to retain a job,” Tantillo said.

This new program, she explained, is intended to supplement the ones already in place at Dress for Success, and is framed around five pillars: workplace etiquette, work/life balance, financial health, health and wellness, and leadership and civic responsibility.

“We provide them with a community of support,” she noted. “We’ve had women talk about how they feel like this is a sisterhood and that they’ve never felt so supported before in their lives.”

Opening New Doors

Confidence. Community. Sisterhood.

These key words mentioned above several times are what Dress for Success instills in women utilizing its programs. And these women want to succeed not only for themselves, but for each other.

“The flip side is, now, when they’re in a job, they have a real sense of responsibility because what they do doesn’t just impact them, it impacts the next person we refer to that employer,” Tantillo said. “It’s interesting to see how people respond when they feel like they’re part of something bigger.”

For Pelletier, she gained not only a community of support, but a second chance.

“I was at rock bottom, and I said, ‘OK, let me try this. Let me see where it goes from there,’” she said. “They can either kick me to the curb or they can say, ‘hey, come on in.’ And luckily, they said, ‘come on in.’”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Workforce Development

Life’s Work

Fern Selesnick says ageism does exist in the work world, but sometimes people also fall prey to harmful self-stereotypes.

Fern Selesnick says older job seekers have clear advantages over younger applicants — most notably, a lifetime of experience.

“You can say, ‘I have experience in this field, and I pretty much know what’s coming around the bend and can solve problems, and nothing can throw me,’” she told attendees of a recent workshop for mature workers at the MassHire Springfield Career Center.

“The people out there who are younger than you cannot say that,” she went on. “And the only reason you can say you know the problems that come up and you know how to solve them and you are unflappable is your age. That translates to an employer saying, ‘this person is going to save me time, money, and headaches. I won’t have to work so hard.’”

It’s a message she’s shared many times with clients of Fern Selesnick Consulting in Hatfield, which specializes in career decisions and job-search skills like interviewing and résumé writing for clients ranging from students to, yes, mature workers and career changers.

But she’s also realistic about the attitudes older job seekers will face during their search, and noted that ‘old’ means different things in different fields. For example, professional athletes are considered old by their 30s, airline pilots by their 50s, and Supreme Court justices not until their 80s. But anyone, in any field, can encounter ageism.

“The interesting thing about ageism is that it’s the only form of discrimination that people can practice on others when they’re young and become a victim of when they’re old. It’s a very weird ‘ism’ in that way.”

“It can also vary by industry,” she said. “In the United States today, there is ageism, and there is age discrimination — not across the board, but it is a strong enough force to be aware of.

“The interesting thing about ageism is that it’s the only form of discrimination that people can practice on others when they’re young and become a victim of when they’re old. It’s a very weird ‘ism’ in that way,” she added. “But there are laws that protect mature workers.”

Among these is the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers and job applicants above age 40 from discrimination based on age. States have incorporated their own laws — but none of these guarantees that older job seekers won’t run into outdated attitudes, whether blatant or subtle, Selesnick said.

“But there are also opportunities,” she went on, noting that it’s important for mature workers to understand their worth, while doing what they can to boost their skills and readiness for a new job or career change. “It’s critically important to not believe the myths about ageism. Those myths impact finances and health, as well as quality of life.”

Why Not Retire?

There are many reasons why someone chooses to remain in the job market past traditional retirement age. Finances are a major factor: 40% of Americans, including a large swath of older workers, have amassed retirement savings of less than $10,000.

But older workers bring plenty of adaptability to the table, Selesnick added, as they seek to extend their working years. Many are self-employed; in fact, according to the AARP, more than half of all new businesses are started by people over age 50. Meanwhile, people over age 75 have the highest rate of self-employment of any age group.

Being one’s own boss, of course, means not losing a job to age discrimination. But it can also mean long hours, and it’s risky — half of small businesses fail in the first five years. She recommended accessing resources like the Senior Corps of Retired Executives and the UMass Small Business Development Center for free advising on self-employment matters.

For those seeking to work well into retirement, whether for themselves or a boss, she listed a number of essential tasks, including learning how Social Security works, updating one’s résumé, researching occupational requirements, and even taking care of one’s health and managing chronic conditions. She was quick to add, however, that even people dealing with chronic illness can bring much to a job, from intelligence and wisdom to interpersonal skills and a keen sense of humor.

“Remember, a person is not their illness, even though it can be traumatic when a person is diagnosed with a chronic illness,” she added. “It’s important to remember that’s not all of who a person is, and a person can still have tremendous functioning with a chronic illness.”

Selesnick encouraged workshop attendees to avoid ‘internalized ageism,’ which are self-stereotypes often developed at a young age, and instead focus on positive qualities of aging, such as good judgment and impulse control developed over a lifetime.

“It’s important to consider what’s been gained rather than what’s been lost,” she said. “A lot of things my friends would do in their 20s, they would never do now. Which is not to say something negative about youth, because I don’t want to reverse age discriminate. But the judgment and ability to evaluate situations is something that develops with age. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

And it’s something employers value, she added. But more important is the ability to do the job, and it when it comes to changing careers, people need to consider what kind of retraining that might entail — a certificate that can be earned in a few months, perhaps online, or a full degree program they may not have the time or money to pursue.

“So, if you’re going to need to be retrained, is it a retraining you can take on? Or do you have transferrable skills, so you can just switch gears?”

Sometimes all it takes is an upgrade in technology skills, and MassHire Springfield is one of many agencies offering classes in computer use and specific programs. She said one positive stereotype of Baby Boomers is their work ethic, and that often manifests as a willingness to learn new technology if it’s needed for work.

But it’s equally important, she added, to be enthusiastic and confident with that technology, because those who seem hesitant or reluctant may be screened out by recruiters without a second thought.

Selesnick also went over the basics of résumé preparation with workshop attendees, noting that applicant-tracking software will filter out applications without certain keywords before they ever make it to an HR manager’s desk. In effect, applicants are writing a résumé for two audiences — the software and an actual human being.

OK, Boomer (No, Really, It’s OK)

From there, hopefully, it’s on to the interview, which allows applicants to showcase their skills, confidence, and, yes, wisdom and good judgment collected through the years.

But it also helps to know someone, which is why Selesnick encouraged her audience to network as much as possible. “Research has shown that, if an employer receives a tip from someone they trust about a potential candidate, they’re going to trust that more than the résumé.”

Still, if the playing field is even — and it sometimes isn’t, because ageism is still a fact of life — an interview should provide an opportunity to connect on a personal level and to prove that age is no liability.

“Remember, when you’re walking into that interview, that’s your ace in the hole,” she concluded. “Your age is not your downfall — it’s your plus.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Workforce Development

Meeting the Need

Dawn Creighton says she’s excited about finding solutions to area employers’ needs.

During her decade-long tenure as regional director for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), Dawn Creighton’s role was basically to support member businesses in the 413.

“I went out and met with member companies, with their executive directors, and they would tell me what their biggest business challenges are, and I would try to find them a solution,” she told BusinessWest. “Sure enough, every single one of them said, ‘Dawn, if you could get me the bodies, I could double my workforce.’ No matter what the industry was, I’d meet with the HR person, and she’d say, ‘oh my God, Dawn, help me find somebody.’”

In those years, she formed connections between companies and resources like the region’s colleges and universities, but she wanted to be more than a connector.

And now she is. In her new position, as chief Workforce Development officer for Greenfield Community College (GCC), she can actually help build the programs that create that worker pipeline — and she’s excited about the possibilities.

“This opportunity became available, and I was like, ‘wait — I actually get to do something about this.’ It’s really exciting.”

Creighton, who works at GCC’s Downtown Center at 270 Main St. in Greenfield, had been on the job only three weeks when she sat down with BusinessWest to share that excitement, although she described her job in vague terms for a reason: at the moment, she’s mostly listening — and learning.

“What’s the purpose of higher education if we’re not building the student for the workforce they’re entering? We get it, and want to be able to do that.”

“My first 30 days have been really meeting with the employees at GCC and what they’re doing in the community. Then I’m spending the next 30 days meeting with the employers in the community, finding out what their needs are to make sure we’re building the programs they need. Then the next 30 days will be spent with our community partners, finding out how we can build programs together,” she explained.

“Once all that comes together, we’ll be figuring out what we’re already doing and doing well, and building new programs,” she went on. “What does that look like? Do we need to add more technology training? What are the needs of the community?”

Creighton is no stranger to GCC — she’s a 2005 graduate of the college who began her career as an employment specialist at MassLive before becoming AIM’s regional director for Western Mass. in 2009. During her tenure at AIM, she served thousands of employer members, uniting them around issues ranging from healthcare and employment law to sustainability, budgeting, and hiring.

In doing so, she developed an understanding of the diverse needs of employers across the region, including manufacturing, but she is also invested in furthering innovation and bolstering the creative economy. Thus, she’s in a good position to help GCC integrate the liberal arts and technical education it offers, said college President Yves Salomon-Fernandez.

“As an alumna, we are especially proud of Dawn’s professional achievements and are delighted that she wants to serve her alma mater and community this way,” Salomon-Fernandez said. “She rose to the top in the search process. There is much anticipation for her to lead us to new heights.”

Growth Potential

Among her responsibilities, Creighton oversees the college’s non-credit programs, from manufacturing to personal enrichment — “you’d be amazed how many people are interested in taking ukulele lessons and salsa dancing and tango.”

But when it comes to crafting programs that better train students for fertile career opportunities — thus helping companies grow — “there’s always more potential, and that’s why I’m here,” she said.

“Many, many moons ago, the impression [of community colleges] from the business world was, ‘here’s our student, take it.’ Now the business community has a chance to be the model for the student,” she went on. “What’s the purpose of higher education if we’re not building the student for the workforce they’re entering? We get it, and want to be able to do that.”

The college is currently crafting a strategic plan, seeking input from the community and companies of all types and sizes, to better hone and respond to those workforce needs, she explained. “It’s an exciting time, and the vision for what people want to see from the community college is huge. We’re reaching out to people and asking for their time to help us build the product they need — the student.

“They’re so excited to have their voice heard,” she added. “They’re calling me and telling me what they need, and they want to be a part of it — ‘how can I help?’ It’s this contagious vibe of getting involved. I’ve had people say, ‘if you build this program or do this training, I’ll even send some of my people in to talk about it in a real-world context. I’ll even do apprenticeships; I’ll do internships.’ They’re not interested in a handoff; they want to be hands-on.”

The goal, Creighton noted, is to get those ‘bodies’ in positions of need — actually, not just any bodies, but well-trained individuals — and help companies grow, at the same time establishing Western Mass. as a strong job market, attracting still more talent, which helps companies grow more, and it becomes a snowball effect.

“Every industry has a shortage of people,” she said, but specifically people with essential life skills — what some call soft skills, though she doesn’t like that term. “It sounds fluffy — but it’s real.”

For example, many employees and job seekers simply don’t understand the need to be punctual, or to stay off their smartphone during work hours, or that a 9-to-5 job means actually working 9 to 5. “To some people, it’s common sense; to others, it’s not. It’s just not an environment they’ve been in.”

And while Millennials have gotten a bad rap, this soft-skills gap spans the generations, Creighton said. In fact, in many ways, Millennials are a positive force, forcing companies to rethink old ways of doing business.

“With all this new leadership in the community, it’s just a fun, exciting buzz and vibe in Franklin County.”

She recalled participating on a panel with a banker who told her about a job he had early in his career. He was so savvy with technology, he’d get a day’s work done in five hours, but his boss wouldn’t give him additional duties, as not to show up his co-workers, so once his day’s work was complete, he’d sit at his desk, buried in his phone.

“Everyone looks at him like he’s this slacker,” she said. “He ended up leaving — no surprise there. And how many other people are leaving because they’re underutilized?”

The bottom line is that companies and their employees can learn from each other to help each other succeed, she explained — and that’s another way organizations can grow.

New Blood

As the former board president of Dress for Success, Creighton also built Foot in the Door, a workforce-readiness program dedicated to helping women develop critical skills for entering and re-entering the workforce. So she’s no stranger to these issues.

And she’s energized by all the new blood in regional leadership. For example, Salomon-Fernandez has been on the job just a year, and so has Diana Szynal, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

“With all this new leadership in the community, it’s just a fun, exciting buzz and vibe in Franklin County,” Creighton said. “Everyone’s saying, ‘let’s try it this way,’ and nobody’s saying, ‘no, we did that before.’ And we’re working collaboratively together.”

While touring manufacturers and other businesses to determine what they need to grow, she added, it’s important to understand that many tools and programs are already in place. “We just need to package them differently. I’m excited when I hear the things people want and realize we’re already doing it and we could just do it in a more robust way.”

Finally, Creighton wants to celebrate the region’s economic successes while striving to add to them — and make sure GCC has a key role in doing so.

“So many people talk about how many people leave the region. OK, people leave — we get that,” she said. “But let’s focus on how many people stay, and what their economic impact is on our community. That’s where our focus should be.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Workforce Development

The Power of Pause

As was made clear in the first three installments of BusinessWest’s ‘Future Tense’ series, handling the incredibly fast pace of change while also trying to look around the corner to see what the future might bring is not only difficult but extremely stressful. And the present is no bargain, either. In response, major corporations and small businesses across the country and around the world are increasingly looking at mindfulness as a way to help employees focus their attention and stay in the moment, as attendees learned in the most recent lecture

Moira Garvey says that when a computer isn’t behaving properly — probably because it’s doing too many things at once or can’t sort out everything it’s being asked to do — its operator will reset, or reboot, that piece of equipment.

And, usually, that works; the computer functions much better than it did before.

What many people are now realizing — and more need to realize — is that they, too, need to reboot on a regular basis, and for the same reason the computer usually does: We’re trying to do too much, we can’t sort it all out, and because of that, we’re not operating as efficiently as we can.

Just like a computer, we need to reset, we need to reboot,” said Garvey, senior consultant and facilitator for the Potential Project, a global leader in providing customized, organizational effectiveness programs based on mindfulness.

Moira Garvey

Moira Garvey

“Just like a computer, we need to reset, we need to reboot.”

Garvey was joined at the podium recently by Susan O’Connor, Esq. vice president and general counsel for Health New England, as they presented the final installment (for 2018, anyway) of BusinessWest’s Future Tense series.

In the first three programs, presented by Paragus Strategic IT, The Jamrog Group, and Meyers Brothers Kalicka, respectively, presenters talked about the quickening pace of change, the challenges of predicting what will come next, and the clear need to be proactive when it comes to anticipating what might lie around the next curve and being fully prepared for it.

In the final lecture, Garvey and O’Connor talked about what all this rapid change, unpredictability, and need to be prepared is doing to people — it’s stressing them out. And it’s not just the future that’s doing this, it’s the present as well. And it’s not just work. It’s also life — family, bills, difficult conversations, health concerns … the list goes on, and on, and on.

Add it all up, said Garvey, and people can really only focus about 53% of their mind on what they’re doing at a given moment, and in most all cases, that’s not enough (we’ll elaborate on this later).

The answer to improving that number, for a growing number of companies and the individuals they employ, is mindfulness, loosely defined as paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, non-judgmental way. It’s meditation designed to help a wandering mind — and all minds are wandering these days — come back, and stay focused on the present moment. It also gives people the tools needed to be less stressed and more calm.

The list of companies incorporating mindfulness programs continues to grow and now includes virtually every sector of the economy and the likes of Google, Microsoft, Accenture, Sony, Aetna, Airbus, Heineken, Marriott, Cisco, American Express, and countless others.

Why? Garvey sums it up quickly and effectively by citing the title of Thomas Davenport’s book — The Attention Economy — and the phrase that sums it all up: “Understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success.”

Recognizing this, Health New England recently added its name to the list of companies involving employees in mindfulness programs, said O’Connor, adding that in the four years since HNE started down this road, it has seen real results when it comes to stress reduction and getting people to better focus on what’s right in front of them instead of everything else.

Jody Gross, HNE’s interim president and CEO, agreed.

“The health insurance industry is not unique in facing the challenges of constant change and uncertainty; our fast-paced lives at home and at work mean associates are continually pushing themselves to do more, to achieve more, and to do everything faster,” he said. “Technology and instant access results in a 24/7 schedule, and creates a fragmented, over-stressed, and hectic way of life. As Health New England looked for ways to reduce stress and build mental resiliency for our workforce, we understood it was critical to go beyond encouraging physical fitness. 

“We needed to invest in improving the health and well-being of the whole person,” he went on. “One way to stay centered and focused is to commit to the practice of mindfulness.”

For the issue its focus on professional development, BusnessWest talked with Garvey and O’Connor about the emergence of mindfulness and how companies are using it to help employees combat all the stress in their lives and stay in the moment.

An Attention Getter

As they addressed the audience gathered for the Future Tense lecture at Tech Foundry, Garvey and O’Connor set the tone for the discussion by putting up a PowerPoint slide with a map of the country. By clicking on a state, one could discern its ‘most googled healthcare problem in 2018.’

Clicking on Utah, for example, which owns the nation’s highest pregnancy rate, ‘morning sickness’ comes up.

Maneuvering over Massachusetts, O’Connor clicked her mouse, and the word ‘stress’ appeared in all capital letters in a red starburst, as if any additional emphasis was needed.

And while Bay State residents do indeed have a lot of stress, the condition knows no boundaries, said Garvey, adding that there are certainly lots of reasons for it. Advancing technology is part of it, as is the overall pace of change. But mostly, it’s about handling all that work and life are throwing at people, she noted.

Susan O’Connor

Susan O’Connor

“We turned to mindfulness to help employees remain resilient in the face the growing amounts of stress they face.”

And, like a computer, people on overload need to reset, or reboot, she said. “To speed things up, often you need to first slow down,” she said, referring to mindfulness or what she calls ‘the power of the pause.’

As we explain how it works, we need to go back to that number 53%. As Garvey explained, that’s how much of one’s mind is ‘on task,’ as she put it. The other 47% is off task, meaning it’s focused on everything but the task.

That means that, typically, people have a 47% ‘attention deficit trait,’ as it’s called. And to illustrate, Garvey offered an example everyone can relate to: “You pick up the phone to make an appointment … you get distracted, look at some e-mails or some texts … your mind starts to wander, and you wind up never making the appointment.”

To get more of the mind on task, people need to pause and reset, said Garvey, adding that this is mindfulness, or what she and others in this emerging field call “attention training.”

These are daily exercises — 10 minutes in length is the average — during which practitioners use meditation to keep their mind from wandering, she said, and bring it back to the present moment.

Because of its ability to help people focus, be less distracted by everything else around them, and, in the end, more productive, the business community has embraced mindfulness, said Garvey, noting that today, more than 450 major corporations and more than 100,000 employees are actively involved in mindfulness programs.

As for HNE, it started what O’Connor called a “mindfulness journey” roughly four years ago.

“We turned to mindfulness to help employees remain resilient in the face the growing amounts of stress they face,” she said, adding that mindfulness is now part of the business strategy for the company, the largest health plan based in Western Massachusetts.

Elaborating, she said that HNE introduced Potential Project’s Mindful Leadership program to its leadership team, a group of about 30 people. They took in part in a three-month pilot program involving 10-minute daily mindfulness sessions.

The results, studied by researchers from the National University of Singapore, are striking. They show a 31% increase in overall job performance, a 17% reduction in work/family conflict, a 37% reduction in “emotional exhaustion,” a dramatic, 52% drop in negative moods, and a 9% increase in attention, to 62% instead of the aforementioned 53%.

Summing it all up, she said the programs, now being used by a growing number of employees at the company, are helping these individuals “rewire” their brains to be less reactive to all that’s going around them and for them to respond more thoughtfully to the specific moment.

Gross agreed.

“Our mindfulness programs teach people to learn how to respond to the complexities and pressures of the workplace,” he told BusinessWest. “Our results have been excellent, and associates report improvements in how they approach uncertainty, have deeper concentration and an increased sense of satisfaction in and out of work.”

Mind Over Matters

Returning to that loose comparison between people and computers, Garvey said, “the expectation is that we’re always on. Well, machines can do that, but people cannot; we can’t always be on.”

But the truth is, we try to be, and that’s why the reset, the reboot, is needed.

Recognition of this has made mindfulness top of mind for a growing number of companies large and small, and most all of them are seeing real results in terms of stress reduction and improved productivity.

Practitioners with a lot on their mind are able to speed up by slowing down and dealing with the moment — just that moment.

This is the power of the pause.

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

Workforce Development

The Overlooked Management Tool

By Kate Zabriskie

‘I sit right next them. We don’t need to have a staff meeting.’

‘I used to have staff meetings, but we stopped having them. Nobody had anything to talk about.’

‘We have enough meetings. We certainly don’t need another.’

For a myriad of reasons, many managers don’t hold regular staff meetings. Furthermore, most who do don’t get the most they could from them, and that’s too bad. Good staff meetings can focus a team, energize employees, and engage them in ways ad-hoc interactions don’t.

So how do you turn a halted or ho-hum approach to staff meetings into a high-functioning management tool?

STEP ONE: Connect Daily Work with Your Organization’s Purpose

In addition to distributing information, staff meetings present an opportunity to connect your team’s daily work to your organization’s purpose. If you’re thinking, ‘My people know how their work fits into our overall goal,’ you would be wrong. In fact, if you ask your group what your organization’s purpose or your department’s purpose are, don’t be surprised when you get as many answers as there are people in the room. (And you thought you had nothing to talk about in a staff meeting. A discussion about purpose is a good one to have.)

Purpose is why you do what you do. You connect the work to it by explaining how what people did aligns with the greater goal. For example, the head of housekeeping at a busy hotel might hold a meeting with the cleaning staff. In that meeting, the managers might recognize a team that received a perfect room score from all guests who took a survey and then talk about purpose.

The purpose of the hotel is to provide people a safe and comfortable place to spend the night. Having a clean, welcoming, and functioning room is one of the ways a cleaning staff achieves that goal.

“Purpose is why you do what you do. You connect the work to it by explaining how what people did aligns with the greater goal.”

By regularly connecting such activities as cleaning toilets, making beds, and folding towels to the guest experience, the manager highlights why each of those activities is important.

No matter what they do, employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. They also tend to make better choices if they receive frequent reminders about purpose and what types of activities support it.

STEP TWO: Highlight Relevant Metrics

Connecting work to purpose usually works best when a team focuses on both anecdotal and analytical information. If you don’t currently track statistics, start. What you track will depend on your industry. However, whatever you decide should have a clear line of sight to the larger goal.

For instance, a museum that holds events to attract new members might track the number of events held, contact information collected, memberships sold, and the percentage of new memberships that come as a result of attending the free event. With regular attention placed on the right metrics, the team is far more likely to make good choices as to where it should focus its efforts.

STEP THREE: Follow a Formula and Rotate Responsibility

Successful staff meetings usually follow a pattern, such as looking at weekly metrics, sharing information from the top, highlighting success, a team-building activity, and so forth. By creating and sticking with a formula, managers help their employees know what to expect.

Once employees know the pattern of the meeting, many are capable of running it because they’ve learned by watching. Managers then have a natural opportunity to rotate the responsibility of the meeting to different people. By delegating, the manager is able to free up his or her time and provide employees with a chance to develop their skills.

STEP FOUR: Celebrate Successes

In many organizations, there is a huge appreciation shortage. Staff meetings provide managers and employees with regular intervals to practice gratitude.

“I’d like to thank Tom for staying late last night. Because he did, I was able to attend a parent-teacher conference.”

“Maryann’s work on the PowerPoint presentation was superb. I want to thank her for preparing me with the best slides shown at the conference. The stunning photos outshined the graphics others used. Maryann’s work really made our company look good.”

A steady drip of sincere gratitude can drive engagement. Note the word: sincerity. Most people have an amazing capacity to identify a false compliment. Real praise is specific. Well-delivered praise also ties the action to the outcome. Whether it’s being able to attend a conference, looking good in front of others, or some other result, people appreciate praise more when they understand how their actions delivered results. A praise segment in your staff meetings ensures you routinely take the time to recognize efforts.

STEP FIVE: Focus on Lessons Learned and Continuous Improvement

Staff meetings that include an opportunity to share lessons learned help drive continuous improvement. At first, people may be reluctant to share shortcomings. However, if you follow step four, you should begin to develop better communication and a sense of trust with your team. Modeling the process is a good place to start.

“I learned something this week I want to share with you. I had a call with a client that could have gone better. I’m going to tell you what happened and then I’ll discuss some ideas about how I would handle something similar in the future.”

The more you practice this exercise, the greater the gains you should experience.

STEP SIX: Develop a Schedule and Stick with It

Almost anyone can follow the first five steps some of the time, but those who get the most out of staff meetings hold them consistently. They publish a meeting schedule, and they stick with it. They may shorten a meeting from time to time or reschedule, but they don’t treat their chance to gather the team as the least important priority.

Good staff meetings aren’t perfunctory activities that add little value. On the contrary, when used to their full capacity, they are a dynamic management tool. Now what are you going to do about yours? u

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised; www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Workforce Development

The Truth About Employee Disengagement

By Brad Wolff

Most companies struggle with employee disengagement. It’s costly in productivity, profitability, and stress. Gallup’s engagement survey data published in 2017 found that two thirds of U.S. workers are not engaged.

American companies have invested billions of dollars per year for many years to solve this problem. The results? The needle still hasn’t moved. How much has your experience been similar? Could this data simply reveal a general misunderstanding of the true causes of disengagement?

The Acme Corporation was suffering a 41% turnover rate. A recent survey showed that 85% of their workforce was disengaged. The general attitude of apathy, complaining, and cynicism permeated the culture. This was puzzling to management since they attempted multiple efforts to improve engagement.

These were well-planned and executed programs such as team-building exercises, social events, and pay raises. All showed early enthusiasm and positive survey results that generated optimism. Unfortunately, the magic always wore off within a few weeks. In despair, Acme engaged a firm with a very different philosophy than their other advisors. This firm focused on helping executive leadership understand the root causes and solutions. Within nine months, disengagement improved from 71% to 26% and turnover dropped to 19%.

The door to solving this dilemma opened when Acme management acknowledged that since their previous solution attempts were ineffective, their current way of seeing the problem must be flawed. This wisdom, humility, and openness paved the way to learn the true root causes of their disengagement. Once root causes are clearly understood, the solutions usually become obvious.

Fixing engagement issues: What works?

The first step is for the company leaders to take an honest, objective view of the company culture (beliefs and behaviors that determine how people interact and do their work) that impacts and drives the way people think and behave.

That’s why lasting change occurs when focusing at the culture level rather than specific individuals. Below are the relevant human psychological needs that are the actual root causes of people’s engagement level. Examples of mindsets/philosophies that effectively address these needs follows each need. Engagement will improve when management’s actions align with people’s psychological needs.

• To feel valued and understood. Management earnestly listens to employees’ concerns, opinions, and ideas with the intent to understand and consider their merits before responding. This replaces the common responses of defending positions or punishing employees for expressing contrary viewpoints. Management isn’t required to agree with the employees. What’s important is the sincere effort to listen, understand and consider their inputs.

• To express our gifts and talents. Management puts a focus on aligning roles and responsibilities with the gifts and talents of the individuals. We all bring a substantially higher energy and engagement (and productivity) when we do work that we like and are good at. As legendary management consultant Peter Drucker said, “A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”

• Meaning/purpose in what we do. This means that employees have a clear understanding of how their work impacts the mission and vision of the organization. Don’t expect them to figure this out on their own. People are much more motivated when they realize that their efforts truly matter.

• Internal drive for progress or development. Employees are at their best when there is “healthy tension” (not too low, not too high) to meet clear and reasonable standards. This means fair and consistent accountability and consequences based on performance relative to agreed-upon standards. Being too nice and lax harms engagement since people inherently desire growth and realize that standards and consequence help them do this. People are motivated when they focus on: “What did I achieve today?” What did I learn today?” How did I grow?”

What doesn’t work:

In short, anything that doesn’t authentically address the root causes of disengagement is doomed to fail. If the message is ‘look at this nice thing we just did for you’ rather than ‘this is how we value you as human being,’ it’s highly likely to fail.

Examples of the ‘nice thing we just did for you’ include most team-building events, social mixers, company newsletters, upgraded office environments, etc. Even pay and benefit increases have an initial rush soon followed by the familiar “right back where we were” rebound effect. That’s not to say companies should not do these things. They’re nice add-ons after the day to day essentials of human psychology are authentically addressed.

In summary, it’s understandable that we gravitate toward easy, quick-fix solutions to our problems. There are plenty of people to make these suggestions and sell them to us. They also don’t require us to identify our own personal contributions to the problems which we’d prefer to avoid. However, as in most things in life, there is no substitute for working at the cause-level and creating new habits of thinking and behavior.

If you’re serious about creating the high engagement level lead to more profits with greater ease and personal satisfaction, this is what it takes. As a bonus, openly addressing personal challenges that make you human will increase your effectiveness and fulfillment in every area of your life.

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, he specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress; www.PeopleMaximizers.com.

Workforce Development

The Heat Is On

Springfield Operations Manager Meagan Greene

The culinary world is a notoriously challenging place to forge a career, and turnover at the entry level is often high, a problem that constantly challenges restaurants, hotels, colleges, and a host of other food-service companies. Enter Snapchef, which has built a regional reputation for training those workers and matching them with workforce needs to help them get a foot in the door — and then, hopefully, kick it in.

It’s called ‘backfilling.’

That’s a concept businesses in many area industries — from financial services to marketing, from security to hospitality — have been thinking about as MGM Springfield has ramped up its efforts to hire some 3,000 people for its August opening.

Backfilling, simply put, it’s the replacement of an employee who moves on to a different opportunity, and MGM has undoubtedly caused a wave of that phenomenon locally. Because of the casino’s food-service operations, area restaurants, hotels, and other facilities that prepare and serve food have been doing quite a bit of backfilling as well.

If they can find adequate replacements, that is. That’s where Snapchef, a regional food-service training company that opened up shop in Springfield last year, can play a key role.

CEO Todd Snopkowski, who founded Snapchef 16 years ago, said the business model has proven successful in its other four locations — Boston, Dorchester, Worcester, and Providence, R.I. — and has found fertile ground in the City of Homes, where the need for restaurant workers has been on the rise.

“We train folks that are looking to make a career change,” he told BusinessWest. “And, being a staffing company, we don’t only train, we also match folks looking for work in the industry with jobs that are available. If they don’t have the skills to do a job, we actually train them, whether it be dishwashing, cooking, cheffing, you name it. We cover those bases and give them a foothold in the industry.”

As the largest culinary training and staffing company in New England, Snapchef essentially trains and provides staffing help to area food-service establishments. Clients range from large colleges and universities and hospitals to food-service corporations; from hotels and corporate cafeterias to hotels and restaurants.

We train folks that are looking to make a career change,” he told BusinessWest. “And, being a staffing company, we don’t only train, we also match folks looking for work in the industry with jobs that are available. If they don’t have the skills to do a job, we actually train them, whether it be dishwashing, cooking, cheffing, you name it. We cover those bases and give them a foothold in the industry.”

“If they come to me with little or no skills or just want to brush up, we guide individuals in that track,” said Meagan Greene, operations manager in Springfield, noting that Snapchef’s 13-week courses include fast-track culinary training, ServSafe food handling, and workplace safety, among other offerings.

“When the finish the apprentice program, we try to find them full-time jobs, where they can utilize their skills in the workforce,” she went on, noting that all of that is free. The training programs are grant-funded, while Snapchef’s partner employers pay for the hours the employee works, while SnapChef pays the employee directly, with pay depending on the position.

This isn’t culinary school, Greene stressed, but a place to learn enough to get into the culinary world, and advance career-wise from there — an idea Greene called “earning and learning.”

“We go over soups, stocks, sauces, emulsions, salad bar, deli prep. Sometimes, people will go out into the field, come back, and say, ‘hey, Meagan, I did this today at work; is there a better way to do it?’ We also do a little bit of baking, which isn’t our specialty, but you’ll learn how to make pies, quick breads, muffins, and danishes.”

The need for culinary workers, especially at the entry level, is constant, Greene noted, sometimes year-round and sometimes seasonally — for example, colleges need help between September and May, while Six Flags requires a wave of help between April and October.

“For some of the colleges, this will be their second school year with us, so they may buy out some of our employees because they liked them last year,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s kind of bittersweet for us, because the people who get bought out or move forward or find their own job — those are your keepers. Those are the ones who show up for work every day, people who are clean and on time and ready to rock. I’m like, ‘noooo!’ But it’s nice to see somebody move forward.”

Moving forward, after all, is what it’s all about once that foot is in the door.

Slow Burn

Snopkowski has grown Snapchef from its original home Dorchester into a regional force that has trained thousands of workers for potentially rewarding careers in what is, admittedly, a tough field to master, and one where good help is valuable.

Clients have ranged from individual restaurants and caterers to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Gillette Stadium, as well as large food-service corporations like Aramark, Sodexo, and the Compass Group.

Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski

Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski

“With my background, being a corporate chef, I saw the need for an organization like Snapchef 25 years ago. And I think there’s a huge opportunity down the road for even more expansion,” said, noting that MGM Springfield itself poses significant opportunity. “We’re supporting them, and for businesses suffering the loss of people taking these awesome jobs MGM has to offer, we’re there to make sure we backfill the vacancies.”

Snapchef’s growth has led to a number of accolades for Snopkowski, including the 2015 SBA Small Business Person of the Year award for Massachusetts, and the 2016 Citizens Bank Good Citizens Award. And it has inspired people like Greene, who see the value in training the next generation of food-service workers.

She works with the state Department of Labor and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County to create apprenticeship models, teaching participants everything from basic knife skills to how to conduct themselves in a kitchen. She also helps them append their résumés based on what they’ve learned.

After studying culinary arts at a vocational high school and earning three degrees from Johnson & Wales University, she became a sous chef at Sturbridge Host Hotel, not far from her home in Warren. She loved the job — and the commute — but traded it in for an opportunity to work for Snapchef.

“To be honest, I’m never bored. I’m always doing something different,” she said, and that’s true of many of her trainees, who typically begin with temporary placements, which often become permanent. But not all are seeking a permanent gig, she added; some love the variety of ever-changing assignments.

“Some people love it because it’s a lifestyle for them,” she said. “They want to work over here, then they come back to me and say, ‘hey, Meagan, I wasn’t really liking that spot; I don’t want to go back there. I didn’t like the size of the kitchen. It was too big for me; I’m used to working in a smaller kitchen.’” I’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll try not to send you back there.’ And it’s a two-way street; clients can say, ‘I don’t want Joe Smith back.’”

Because the training is free, Snapchef offers an attractive opportunity for people who want to get a food in the door in food service.

Finishing Touches

As a company that fills a needed gap — as culinary schools aren’t typically training for entry-level positions — Snopkowski said Snapchef has made significant inroads in Western Mass. over the past year, especially working with FutureWorks Career Center to identify individuals looking to shift into the world of food service.

“Our employees don’t have to pay for transition training and all those attributes that are needed to get a foothold in the business,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s good to see that MGM recognizes it, the colleges as well.”

Speaking of financial perks, Snapchef-trained employees may access round-trip transportation from the Springfield office to their job sites across the region, for only $3 per day, Greene said. “It’s cheaper than Uber, cheaper than Lyft, and better than having your mom come pick you up and drop you off. If you live in the city and are used to taking the bus everywhere, you don’t have to worry about how to get to work.”

As for Greene, she continues to enjoy the variety of her work — a pickling enthusiast, she taught a recent class how to pickle vegetables, and they prepared 300 jars worth — as well as the success stories that arise from it, like a man trained by Snapchef who went on to further his education at Holyoke Community College and is now opening a restaurant with his daughter.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see people progress in a short period of time,” she said. “It’s nice to see someone grow so fast. I love that.”

Snopkowski has seen plenty such stories unfold in the 16 years his company has been training people for a new, challenging career, and then helping them build a foothold in the industry.

“We’ve only been able to scratch the surface; there are so many other opportunities out there,” he said. “The future is bright in culinary.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Workforce Development

By the Numbers

By Nikki Graf, Richard Fry, and Cary Funk


Employment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations has grown 79% since 1990, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million, outpacing overall U.S. job growth. There’s no single standard for which jobs count as STEM, and this may contribute to a number of misperceptions about who works in STEM and the difference that having a STEM-related degree can make in workers’ pocketbooks.

A new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data takes a broad-based look at the STEM workforce from 1990 to 2016 based on an analysis of adults ages 25 and older working in any of 74 occupations. These include computer, math, engineering, and architecture occupations, physical scientists, life scientists, and health-related occupations such as healthcare practitioners and technicians.

Here are seven facts about the STEM workforce and STEM training.

1. STEM workers enjoy a pay advantage compared with non-STEM workers with similar levels of education. Among those with some college education, the typical full-time, year-round STEM worker earns $54,745 while a similarly educated non-STEM worker earns $40,505, or 26% less.

And among those with the highest levels of education, STEM workers outearn their non-STEM counterparts by a similar margin. Non-STEM workers with a master’s degree typically earn 26% less than STEM workers with similar education. The median earnings of non-STEM workers with a professional or doctoral degree trail their STEM counterparts by 24%.

2. While STEM workers tend to be highly educated, roughly a third have not completed a bachelor’s or higher-level degree. A substantial share (35%) of the STEM workforce does not have a bachelor’s degree. Overall, about three in 10 STEM workers report having completed an associate degree (15%) or have some college education but no degree (14%). These workers are more prevalent among healthcare practitioners and technicians, computer workers, and engineers.

Some 36% of STEM workers have a bachelor’s degree but no graduate degree, while 29% have earned a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree. Life scientists are the most highly educated among STEM workers, with 54% having an advanced degree.

3. About half of workers with college training in a STEM field are working in a non-STEM job. Among workers ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree, 33% have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field of study. But only 52% of these STEM-trained workers are employed in a STEM occupation.

Among non-STEM occupations, management, business, and finance jobs attract a substantial share of college graduates with STEM training (17%), particularly those who majored in engineering. Roughly a quarter (24%) of engineering majors are in a managerial, business, or finance job.

Overall, among adults with a STEM college major, women are more likely than men to work in a STEM occupation (56% versus 49%). This difference is driven mainly by college graduates with a health-professions major (such as nursing or pharmacy), most of whom are women.

However, 38% of women and 53% of men with a college major in computers or computer science are employed in a computer occupation. And women with a college degree in engineering are less likely than men who majored in these fields to be working in an engineering job (24% versus 30%). These differences in retention within a field of study for women in computer and engineering occupations are in keeping with other studies showing a ‘leaky pipeline’ for women in STEM.

4. STEM training in college is associated with higher earnings, whether working in a STEM occupation or not. Among college-educated workers employed full-time year-round, the median earnings for those who have a STEM college major are $81,011, compared with $60,828 for other college majors.

The earnings advantage for those with a college major in a STEM field extends to workers outside of STEM occupations. Among all non-STEM workers, those who have a STEM college degree earn, on average, about $71,000; workers with a non-STEM degree working outside of STEM earn roughly $11,000 less annually.

5. The share of women varies widely across STEM job types. Women are underrepresented in some STEM job clusters, but in others they match or exceed their share in the U.S. workforce overall. In fact, women comprise three-quarters of healthcare practitioners and technicians, the largest occupational cluster classified as STEM in this analysis, with 9.0 million workers — 6.7 million of whom are women.

And women’s gains since 1990 in the life sciences (up from 34% to 47%) have brought them roughly on par with their share in the total workforce (47%), a milestone reached in math occupations (46%) as well. Women remain underrepresented in engineering (14%), computer (25%), and physical-science (39%) occupations.

6. Women have made significant gains in life and physical sciences, but in other areas their shares have been stable, and in computer jobs it has declined. While there has been significant progress for women’s representation in the life and physical sciences since 1990, the share of women has been roughly stable in several other STEM job clusters.

In engineering, the job cluster in which women have the lowest levels of representation on average, women’s shares have inched up only slightly, from 12% in 1990 to 14% today. And the share of women has actually decreased in one of the highest-paying and fastest-growing STEM clusters — computer occupations. In 1990, 32% of workers in computer occupations were women; today, women’s share has dropped to 25%.

7. Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in the STEM workforce relative to their shares in the U.S. workforce as a whole. This underrepresentation is evident across all STEM job clusters, with one exception: 11% of healthcare practitioners and technicians are black, similar to the share of blacks in the total workforce.

Within job clusters, however, the share of blacks and Hispanics varies widely. For example, 37% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses are either black or Hispanic. By comparison, other health-related jobs have smaller shares of workers who are black or Hispanic, including physicians and surgeons (11%), pharmacists (10%), dentists (9%), and physical therapists (9%). Just 5% of optometrists, veterinarians, and chiropractors are black or Hispanic.

Asians are overrepresented across all STEM occupational groups, particularly among computer workers and life scientists. They account for 19% of workers in both of these fields, which is much higher than their share in the workforce overall (6%).

The share of Asians varies substantially within occupational groups, however. For example, in engineering jobs, the share of Asians ranges from 30% among computer-hardware engineers to 2% among surveying and mapping technicians. Among healthcare practitioners and technicians, 21% of physicians and surgeons are Asian. But Asians comprise a far smaller share in other occupations, such as veterinarians (3%) and emergency medical technicians and paramedics (2%).

Nikki Graf is a research associate focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center. Richard Fry is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center. Cary Funk is director of science and society research at Pew Research Center.

Sections Workforce Development

Making Some Progress

Elizabeth Ryan

Elizabeth Ryan, working her way toward a bachelor’s degree in advanced technology systems, wants to move on to a leadership position in the manufacturing field.

While the region’s manufacturers continue to struggle to find qualified help and fill the enormous voids being left by retiring Baby Boomers, it appears that some progress is being made in efforts to inspire young people to consider the field and start down a path toward a career within it. Conversations with students at Springfield Technical Community College reveal that, while considerable work remains to be done to meet the workforce needs of this sector, some perceptions about it are changing.

Gary Masciadrelli said the letters keep coming.

And to back up those words, he started shuffling papers on his desk to find some. He didn’t have to look far or work hard.

“Here’s one — a local company looking for an intern,” said Masciadrelli, professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department at Springfield Technical Community College, as he held it aloft. “Here’s another one … someone looking for a manufacturing engineer. We get a letter almost every day or every other day. We’re constantly getting these demands for people to fill jobs; we could definitely use more students.”

Indeed, a number of area manufacturers are turning to STCC and Masciadrelli for some kind of help with a large and ongoing problem — finding enough talented help to help the steady steam of orders these companies are getting, especially as members of the Baby Boom generation reach retirement age.

“We have far more job opportunities than we have people to fill them,” said Masciadrelli as he talked with BusinessWest in his small office within STCC’s Smith & Wesson Technology Applications Center, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment on which students can train.

That ‘we’ he used referred to both the college — which has plenty of unused seats within both its associate-degree program and a new program launched in conjunction with Northeastern University whereby students may earn a bachelor’s degree on the STCC campus — and the manufacturing sector itself.

By some counts, there are hundreds of jobs, maybe more, within the region’s manufacturing sector that could be filled but have not been because there are simply not enough trained individuals. Changing this equation has become one of the top workforce-development priorities within the 413, which has a rich history in manufacturing and innovation dating back to the creation of the Springfield Armory (on what is now the STCC campus, ironically).

Masciadrelli told BusinessWest he’s doing what he can, but it remains a stern challenge to interest young people in this profession. Reasons vary, but at the top of the list are outdated perceptions about what the work is like; lingering doubts, fueled by talk about everything from robots to work going overseas, about the relative health of the sector moving forward; and strong memories among parents who saw stalwarts ranging from American Bosch to Moore Drop Forge to the Springfield Armory abruptly close their doors.

But some young people are managing to look beyond all that and see the vast potential that work in this sector holds. Many have role models, if you will — relatives or friends who stand as inspiring examples. And many are women, introduced to the field in high school and encouraged to continue down that path.

People like Lineisha Rosario, from Agawam, who started down the road to STCC and its mechanical engineering program (quite literally) while watching her father work on cars and becoming fascinated with how things worked.

“I was always with him and always willing to help, even though he didn’t let me because I was too little,” said Rosario, currently working for CNC Software Inc. in Tolland, Conn., which provides state-of-the-art software tools for CAD/CAM manufacturing markets, in the post-processing department.

She plans to continue working there after earning her associate’s degree in a few months, and encourages others to explore a field where they can stretch their imagination and expand their career horizon.

And also people like Elizabeth Ryan, who earned her associate’s degree at STCC and is now working toward her bachelor’s through the affiliation with Northeastern.

A graduate of Chicopee Comprehensive High School, she currently works as a mechanical engineer at Parts Tool & Die, an aerospace machine shop based in Agawam. She enjoys her current work handling programming, processing, and quoting, but has set her sights much higher.

“I want to move up the chain and see if I can get into a leadership position,” she explained. “I’m still fairly new to the industry since I’ve only been in it a year and half, but I have a lot of options now.”

Lineisha Rosario

Lineisha Rosario, currently working for CNC Software, says there are many career options for those looking to enter the broad field of manufacturing.

Indeed, she does, and this is the message that Masciadrelli and all those in the manufacturing sector want to get across loud and clear.

For this issue and its focus on workforce development, BusinessWest talked with Masciadrelli and several of the students enrolled in the programs at STCC. Their comments reveal that, while there’s still considerable work to do to close that gap noted earlier, this sector may be starting to turn some heads — as well as some cutting-edge parts for everything from the aerospace industry to the medical-device field.

Breaking the Mold

For many years now, area manufacturers, technical high schools, STCC, and workforce-development-related agencies such as the area regional employment boards have been working diligently to inspire young people — and their parents — to at least give manufacturing a hard look.

Programs have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but some progress has definitely been made when it comes to debunking myths and enlightening people about the opportunities to be found in this field.

For evidence of this, one needs to spend only a few minutes with Tim Vovk.

A graduate of West Springfield High School last May, he started work toward an associate’s degree at STCC last fall, more than four years after he signed up for something called the Pathways to Prosperity program, which introduces area young people to the manufacturing field while in high school.

“I thought to myself, ‘I might as well get to know the field; if I don’t like it, I can always leave it,’” he told BusinessWest. “I took the chance, and I grew to like it, especially the problem-solving aspect of it.”

Inspired by his cousin, a drafter at Pratt & Whitney, Vovk wants to follow a similar path because of the challenging and rewarding nature of design work.

Tim Vovk

Tim Vovk says he was introduced to manufacturing while in high school, and he grew to like it, especially the problem-solving nature of the work.

“I’m enjoying it even more than I thought I would,” he said, referring specifically to solid modeling and blueprinting. “It’s fun to see a concept take shape.”

The region — and area manufacturers — could use at least a few hundred individuals more like Vovk, and they’re a long way from getting there. But his story, or individual components of it (that’s an industry phrase), are becoming more common thanks to ongoing efforts to promote the industry, create pathways to enter it and thrive within in it, and provide people with the skills that area manufacturers are desperate for.

And STCC is at the forefront of all that, with new facilities (the Smith & Wesson Center), new programs such as the affiliation with Northeastern, and solid relationships with a number of area manufacturers, said Masciadrelli as he talked with BusinessWest just prior to a class (called Solid Modeling for Mechanical Design I) involving freshmen enrolled in the associate-degree program in mechanical engineering technology.

These students, mostly younger individuals but some looking for a new career opportunity, spent the first semester on basic modeling and learning software. In this spring semester, they are learning what Masciadrelli called the “mechanics of design,” meaning proper drawing standards, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, and understanding how to put all that on blueprints, and, in general, understanding the language of design.

By the time they earn their degree roughly 15 months later, and probably well before that, they could be owning jobs in several different realms, including design (CAD); manufacturing, such as using Mastercam programming; and the broad ‘quality’ realm.

While those at STCC are training students for the field, they’re also trying to sell young people and their parents on a profession. And in most respects, it remains a hard sell, said Masciadrelli.

“You have to get into the high schools and get to the guidance counselors and the parents as well,” he explained. “They need to be made aware that this field has changed and there are some great opportunities for good-paying jobs and careers.

“Technology has changed the field of engineering tremendously,” he went on. “Things that were done by hand … the computer has taken over everything. Look at CNC machining; people are no longer running a Bridgeport, turning cranks and feeling the work. The computer runs the CNC machine; with the technology involved, a lot more people can get involved in this work.”

And by all indications, there will be plenty of work in the years and decades to come, he continued.

Amanda Cyr

Currently working at GKN Aerospace in Connecticut, Amanda Cyr is working toward her bachelor’s degree and, hopefully, a leadership position in manufacturing.

“The people at Pratt & Whitney are telling me they’re seeing no changes in he current demands for decades,” said Masciadrelli. “They never been so busy.”

He said the affiliation with Northeastern will help in this regard, because it will enable people to earn a four-year degree while they work (this is a night program) and in Springfield, as opposed to Boston or Amherst (UMass). And with that degree, new doors of opportunity can be opened.

“We want to show people what a great opportunity they have right here,”Masciadrelli explained. “You come here, spend two years, get a job — you’ll definitely be working when you graduate, and probably well before that — and while you’re working, you can complete your bachelor’s degree at night on this campus.”

There are actually two offerings through the affiliation with Northeastern — a degree in mechanical engineering technology (an offering that did not attract enough students to become reality this year), and another in advanced technology systems, which has attracted six students for this spring, including Ryan.

Where Dreams Take Shape

Perhaps the best selling tool the college has when it comes to its programs and the profession as a whole, Masciadrelli said, are individuals like its graduates and current students (most all of them already working in the field as well).

Through word-of-mouth referrals, they let others become aware of everything from the ample supplies of jobs available to the attractive salaries they offer. Through their stories, they effectively communicate that careers in this field are desirable and, contrary to popular opinion, not beyond their reach academically.

David Nawrocki, a graduate of Chicopee Comprehensive High School, tells a story heard often at STCC.

“Originally, I was going to do the engineering science transfer and transfer from here to UMass, but then I saw the course list, and I felt like a wanted to cry,” he explained. “I’m not really into Calc 2 and all the higher math like that. One of the admissions people sat down with me and saw how frustrated I was. I came and talked to Gary [Masciadrelli] my junior year, and he said, ‘I’ll see you next year.’”

Set to graduate in May, Nawrocki, currently working as an inspector at B&E Tool in Southwick, plans to enroll in the Northwestern advanced manufacturing program, earn his bachelor’s degree, and create more potential landing spots.

Specifically, he’d like to be a project manager or manufacturing engineer. “Something that combines the design side that I like with the practical application of the knowledge,” he explained.

Meanwhile, one his co-workers at B&E, Leah Babinova, a graduate of Westfield Vocational Technical High School last May, is just getting started at STCC.

She was inspired by her two sisters, both of whom went to STCC. One is now working toward a degree in aerospace engineering, while the other is working for a manufacturer in Connecticut.

Also an inspector at B&E, Babinova said she had that job before she even graduated from high school. Surveying the field, she said there are many attractive career opportunities already within her reach, and many more if she adds college degrees.

“There are a lot of good jobs out there,” she told BusinessWest. “Most people just aren’t aware of how many opportunities there are.”

Amanda Cyr is well aware. She’s already been working in the aerospace-engineering field for roughly eight years, since just before her graduation from Westfield Voke.

She’s currently at GKN Aerospace in Newington, Conn. as a manufacturing engineer and robotics programmer. She graduated from the associate-degree program at STCC and is now enrolled in the Northeastern program to generate more of those options her classmate Ryan talked about earlier.

David Nawrocki

David Nawrocki, an inspector at B&E Tool, is working toward his associates degree, and will press on for his bachelor’s

“I just want to continue growing within the industry and have plans to possibly be in a leadership role,” she explained. “And I think having a bachelor’s will help me down that path.”

She spoke for her classmates, her co-workers, and just about everyone else in the industry when she talked about why she chose it as a career.

“It’s challenging, it’s fast-paced, but it’s good — really good,” she said, while Ryan, sitting next to her, nodded her head in agreement.

“The whole world revolves around manufacturing,” she told BusinessWest. “Everything around you has to be manufactured, so if you think about things in that way, you get engaged in it. And the more you get engaged in it, the more you enjoy it.”

Part and Parcel

As Masciadrelli talked about the manufacturing field and the many types of opportunities within it, he said that, while the money’s good, and that’s important, the work itself brings many different kinds of rewards that are not obvious to many on the outside looking in.

“It’s an exciting field — you’re doing something, you’re making something,” he told BusinessWest. “You start with a drawing, and all of the sudden, that becomes something real; things fit together, or they don’t fit together. That’s what fun about it.”

People like Scott Vovk, Elizabeth Ryan, Amanda Cyr, and Victoria Bradenberg have already figured that part out. The region’s manufacturers need hundreds more to become similarly enlightened if they are to have enough talented people to handle the contracts coming their way.

It’s a huge challenge in every respect, but there is progress being made, in every sense of that phrase.

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

Sections Workforce Development

Rolling the Dice

Diane Garvey

Diane Garvey, frustrated in her search for a sales position, has started down a much different career path, and was one of the first to sign up for classes at MCCTI.

Diane Garvey was at a career crossroads. In a big way.

In her 50s, she had spent most of her career working at call centers, as an office manager, and mostly in sales positions, specifically in the candy business, supplying retailers with everything from M&Ms to Russell Stover samplings.

Her most recent position had been eliminated in a restructuring last August, and she spent the next several months in a decidedly futile search for something else. By late last year, with her unemployment benefits winding down, her stop at the crossroads ended, sort of, and she started down a road previously not available to her and one she probably couldn’t have imagined last July.

That would be the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, or MCCTI, an acronym that is quickly working its way into the region’s workforce lexicon and into the vocabulary of people like Garvey.

She was on the ninth floor of 95 State St. in downtown Springfield last Monday, taking the first of six weeks of classes that will likely earn her an audition with MGM Springfield, the $950 million casino going up next door, and perhaps a job on the casino floor by early summer, a few months before the sprawling complex is set to open.

“I was unable to relocate into a different position, so I looked at what was available,” she explained. “With MGM coming to the area and all the publicity they’ve had lately and their reputation for being number one in the entertainment business, maybe the best plan would be to go to the dealer class.”

There are roughly 70 people signed up for the first set of classes at MCCTI, a joint venture of Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College and part of the schools’ hugely successful TWO (Training and Workforce Options) program, which has created training programs to qualify individuals for work in several fields.

For each one of those students, the story is a little different, even though they’ve chosen the same path. Some, like Garvey, are unemployed and looking toward the casino as a place to relaunch their careers. Others are retired or near retirement and looking for something part-time to help fill the day and put a little money in their pocket. Others have some experience working table games in casinos and look upon MGM Springfield as a way to parlay that experience into a job with one of the leading gaming and entertainment companies in the world.

Orlando Marrero can check that last box, and as he talked about what brought him to the ninth floor for the evening class of MCCTI, he borrowed an industry term.

“I rolled the dice,” Marrero, who has a seasonal job delivering propane, told BusinessWest, not once, but several times as he discussed his decision to relocate to the City of Homes and essentially position himself for a job with MGM Springfield when it opens.

With his experience, Marrero probably faces slightly better odds than many of the other students at MCCTI, but all those enrolled stand a good chance of winning a jackpot, in the form of a job, if they are diligent and also passionate about mastering what Alex Dixon, general manager of MGM Springfield, called a “craft.”

“Sometimes people think that you have to know or like table games or like casinos to get into this,” he explained. “This is a craft, and it’s a skill, and with a small investment, you can really become skilled for the rest of your life. As long as you can pass an audition, you’re employable, and these jobs are in high demand.”

Dixon said the casino will need roughly 450 table-games workers and poker dealers when the casino opens, and he admits that MGM has its work cut out for it to not only meet that number but succeed with a much larger goal — sustainability.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he told BusinessWest. “And this is ongoing; we’re looking forward to developing a long-term pipeline of people in Western Mass. who want to choose an opportunity with us.”

For this issue and its focus on workforce development, BusinessWest talked with Marrero and Garvey about their decision to enroll in MCCTI, and with Dixon and others about the many challenges involved with having the casino floor fully staffed by opening night.

Playing the Numbers

With this pipeline-building test in mind, MGM Springfield has taken a number of steps designed to generate interest in the school and prompt more people across that broad spectrum described above to consider careers in table games.

An instructor works with students of all ages on the first day of classes at MCCTI.

An instructor works with students of all ages on the first day of classes at MCCTI.

These include options when it comes to how many games one wishes to learn, flexibility in the scheduling of classes (they run morning, afternoon, and night); similar flexibility when it comes to hours of employment (there are full- and part-time jobs and several shifts); and even reimbursement of the tuition cost.

Still, with all those incentives and flexibility, creating a large, talented corps of table-games workers in an area new to the casino industry will be a daunting challenge, said Dixon.

But he’s hoping, and expecting, that some of the first students to enter the pipeline — people like Garvey and Marrero — will become effective spokespeople, if you will, and help in the recruiting effort.

This is exactly what happened at MGM’s property in Maryland, National Harbor, which opened just over a year ago. There, a school similar to MCCTI and operated in conjunction with Prince George’s (County) Community College, was instrumental in helping that facility staff up with table-games workers.

“In many cases, our best recruiting tool will be our current students,” he explained. “They can certainly help people understand that this is an opportunity; if you’re a recent retiree or you’re currently employed and are looking to pick up a couple of shifts a week, just about anyone with a good attitude can do this.”

Marrero hasn’t even been hired yet, and he’s already helping in this regard, with comments like these when asked about why he was looking forward to returning to the casino floor — sometime soon, he hopes.

“This is what I like doing,” he explained. “I like interacting with the customers; we have a good time. I have a ball when I’m dealing.”

Marrero was a dealer for several years at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. He relocated to Western Mass. so his wife could take a job here, and he has taken odd things (like delivering propane) since. He first contacted Holyoke Community College with inquiries about a dealer school about three years ago, and was one of the first to sign up for the initial cohort of classes.

“I haven’t been a dealer for seven years, and wanted to refresh myself,” he explained, “so I can work at the new casino.”

Overall, Marrero fits just one of many profiles that TWO administrators are seeing in the group signed up for the first cohort that started on Feb. 26, said Jeff Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services at Holyoke Community College.

He told BusinessWest that students come in all age groups and with a host of different backgrounds. Some signed up looking for a new career; others arrived on the ninth floor at 95 State St. hoping to find something new, different, and fulfilling to do in their retirement.

Orlando Marrero is an experienced dealer who enrolled at MCCTI to refresh his skills and learn more games.

Orlando Marrero is an experienced dealer who enrolled at MCCTI to refresh his skills and learn more games.

“So far, we’ve had a good response, but we’re always looking for more people,” said Hayden. “We’re seeing a mix that reflects the region; we’ve had a significant number of people who have some experience and are looking for a refresher course, or they know two games and want to know four games.

“We’ve had more women than men, but the men are primarily the ones with the prior experience,” he went on. “Some are unemployed, but many others are employed, but feel they’re underemployed or in a dead-end position. Still others are looking for something new and different, and MGM appeals to them.”

Dixon told BusinessWest that widely diverse student bodies are typical at these so-called ‘dealer schools,’ which exist even in areas, like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where the gaming industry has a huge presence. That’s because table-games workers will often seek to add to their skills by mastering new games or by refreshing themselves on ones they already know, perhaps with the goal of winning a supervisory position.

In markets like Greater Springfield, however, a larger number of students are being introduced to these games — and to careers in gaming.

Hayden said that students essentially sign on for a 10-week block of classes. The first six weeks are spent on a so-called ‘level 1’ class in either blackjack, roulette, craps, or poker. A student would then take a four-week ‘level-2’ class in everything from mini baccarat to pai gow poker to follow-up sessions in blackjack, roulette, and craps.

Successfully completing classes for two or more games guarantees the student an audition with MGM, said Hayden, adding that, if a student were so inclined, they could sign up for two 10-week blocks and learn three or four games, thus likely improving their odds for employment and perhaps advancement.

Those auditions could come as early as mid-spring, said Dixon, noting that MGM Springfield will begin hiring experienced table-games workers in April and early May, and will likely start the hiring process with the first MCCTI graduates around that same time, meaning they could be on the payroll by June.

With that timetable, Diane Garvey will likely need an extension of her unemployment benefits to get by — something individuals can apply for and something that is often granted to those enrolled in training programs like MCCTI.

She told BusinessWest that she didn’t come to her decision to enroll in these classes quickly or easily. Instead, after much consideration, she decided that this seemed like the most logical path to take from the crossroads she arrived at, and maybe the best fit.

“I would have interaction with people, which is what I liked most about sales,” she explained. “And to be in an exciting environment like MGM … I thought that would be good for me as well. It looked like an opportunity I wanted to pursue.”

Improving Their Odds

While each student currently enrolled at MCCTI has a different story and a different perspective, there is a common denominator: they all use that word ‘opportunity.’

They see MGM and a job on the casino floor as a chance to add a missing piece — whether that piece is a career that’s not at a dead end or a part-time position that can add an intriguing wrinkle to retirement.

In both cases and a host of others that fall somewhere in between, it’s an opportunity. And to seize that opportunity, many are doing just what Orlando Marrero decided he had to do.

Roll the dice.

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

Sections Workforce Development
One-stop Career Centers Rely on Partnerships to Fulfill Their Missions

Executive director Rexene Picard

Executive director Rexene Picard says FutureWorks has made changes in the way the agency serves customers due to shifts in the economy and advances in technology.

When one-stop career centers began opening across the state 16 years ago, David Gadaire said, the mantra connected to them was “no wrong door.”
“The concept was one of universal access,” said the executive director of CareerPoint in Holyoke. “If someone needed to brush up on their skills, get help with writing a résumé, learn to network, or get more training, they could find it under one roof, whether they were a school-age person or an older worker.”
The concept was forward-thinking, but the funding was never in line with the complexity of need that job seekers brought to the table. Still, the problem wasn’t nearly as evident in the early years when the economy was flush.
“For the first few years we were open, 50% of the people we saw were employed,” said FutureWorks Executive Director Rexene Picard, explaining that many came to the center to brush up on skills or take a Saturday class.
Gadaire agreed. “In the beginning, we had enough resources. It was a different game then, and the funding we had supported people who needed to harness their skills,” he said.
FutureWorks and CareerPoint achieved national recognition in 1998 when they were selected as Career Centers of the Year by the National Alliance of Business.
“It was a tremendous honor, but the funding kept dissipating as the numbers grew,” Gadaire said. “We were originally chartered to serve 7,000 people a year, and last year we served between 14,000 and 18,000. The numbers have gone up steadily, and although they have plateaued in the last few years, it is only because our capacity is so overstretched.”
The unemployment office has a representative at both centers, and many people confuse the entities. But the former is run by the state, while the one-stops were established through competitive charters.
CareerPoint was chartered as a nonprofit and opened 16 years ago via a partnership that included the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, Holyoke Community College, the Department of Transitional Assistance, and the UMass Donahue Institute. “They joined together because there was a disconnect between the jobs that were available and the skills of the people available to fill them,” Gadaire said.
The story of FutureWorks is quite different. It was opened in 1996 as the first one-stop in the state by the Employment Training Institute in Ringwood, N.J., owned by Ken Ryan. Granting a charter to a private, for-profit corporation was controversial, but “it gave us a chance to think outside the box,” Picard said. “In the beginning, we said that what we did was not going to be about numbers, it was going to be about customer service. We had welcome centers and made people lifetime members. We could have fallen under the realm of social services, but we felt we were role models for job seekers and wanted to reinforce soft skills, so the center had the atmosphere of a business,” she told BusinessWest.
Although their evolution has been different, it soon became apparent that the needs of the people who came through the doors of both centers were complex, and the funding to help them was far from adequate. “In 1998 when the Workforce Investment Act was passed, the intent was that community partners would support the one-stops. But it never happened,” Picard said.
Still, they have found a way to meet a myriad of complex challenges. “We don’t tell our story well, and it’s a very impressive story,” said Gadaire. “But if 10,000 more people came to our door, I don’t know what we would do.”

Complex Situation
After CareerPoint received its award, it became even more committed to its mission, said Gadaire.
“Universal access meant we had to serve the older worker, the school-age person, professionals, and mid-level executives who found themselves out of work and needed to grow their skills, as well as people with a disability, those who had been incarcerated, homeless people, and individuals who didn’t have an education or didn’t speak English,” he explained. “All of those things required a more significant amount of time than the one-stops were prepared to address. But we realized that we were part of the answer for every one of those populations.”
Since the state did not have money to serve these subgroups, CareerPoint began writing grant proposals, seeking help from corporations and forming alliances with a wide variety of venues, such as the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office.
Today, it operates via seven or eight funding streams and grants that are continually changing. “We have a youth center due to six or seven grants, but we had to carve out a funding strategy,” Gadaire noted.
Finding sources of revenue is a constant struggle because the number of organizations looking to them for help continues to rise. “We’ve tried to create a marketing budget, but it keeps dwindling away. If the choice is marketing or helping a homeless person, the answer is obvious,” he said.
Although the agency initially provided free in-house training for businesses, it began to charge for those services. “We conduct sessions for businesses to help them manage their workforce. We’re giving a series of workshops right now to teach mid- to upper-level managers leadership skills — how to resolve problems, make their workers more productive, and avoid turnover,” Gadaire explained, adding that his organization is also set to launch a videoconference-training program to teach businesses how to conduct remote, face-to-face interviews, which he says will save them time and money.
Since the way people find jobs has changed, CareerPoint has two computer labs where people can become versed in new software and learn how to apply for jobs online. It also stages classes in networking, résumé writing, and a host of other topics related to finding employment.
When the one-stop center opened, it had 36 staff members, but that number has been reduced to around 30. However, it has compensated by forming alliances with many agencies and organizations. It has nine people from different agencies stationed within its office, and makes use of interns.
CareerPoint has also benefitted from countless hours of volunteer help from the Americorps Volunteers in Service to America program. VISTA volunteers have worked with youths involved with gangs as well as seniors, and include one volunteer who is the center’s information-technology manager. “We’ve also tried to build bridges with Westover Job Corps and agencies that offer veterans’ services,” Gadaire explained.
The agency’s staff members are so dedicated that, when they were told recently that two positions had to be eliminated, they offered to save them by taking a 10% pay cut for six months. Gadaire was against the idea, but finally agreed that everyone (including himself) would do it, and much to his surprise, it worked.
“These people are extraordinary; they believe in the community and want to make a difference,” he said. “But they are always exhausted, and I forever worry about burnout.”
Many sit on local nonprofit boards where they build partnerships. “Our partnerships are absolutely critical,” he said. “We are not experts in everything, but hopefully, if we do it right, we can expand our capacity. The community is better-served by our willingness to partner on just about every issue.”

Radical Changes
When FutureWorks opened, it was the only one-stop center in the state operated by a private company. Although profits were capped, Picard said many grassroots organizations and labor groups were upset that a private firm was operating with funds from the state and federal government.
So, in January 2002, after a series of meetings with then Springfield Mayor Michael Albano and Bill Ward, director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, the owner agreed to turn over FutureWorks, with the caveat that it become a nonprofit agency. “The decision meant a lot in terms of restructuring,” Picard said, noting that the corporate headquarters of the Employment Training Institute handled the agency’s finances and human-resource issues.
“It was like starting a new company,” she said. “But having our own board of directors turned out to be one of the best things that happened; we had a very business- oriented team, and the community began viewing us differently.”
The change in status also allowed FutureWorks to pursue grants and funding unavailable to it as a private company. “We also began partnering with staff from other agencies,” Picard said.
One of its most profitable ventures was a shared contract that allowed the agency to work with welfare recipients in Hampden County. “We put more welfare recipients to work than in any other part of the state,” she said.
But despite such gains, the customer base continues to mushroom. “When we started, we saw between 3,000 and 5,000 people a year; last year, we served more than 16,000 individuals,” she noted, adding that FutureWorks consistently leads the state and serves more minorities, youths, and individuals with disabilities than any of the other career centers. “But in order to do so, we have had to look outward to other opportunities.”
These include a unique partnership with the Department of Revenue. The joint effort allows FutureWorks to work with non-custodial parents to help them get jobs so they can pay child support.
The program began as a pilot and expanded to include the family court system. In time, FutureWorks received a performance-based contract to extend the initiative. “It’s been a great program, and we have been told there is only one other place in the nation doing this. It’s in Tennessee, but we are unsure if we will be able to continue it,” Picard said, adding that they have not heard if their latest grant proposal will be extended.
Since Springfield is four times the size of Holyoke in terms of population, FutureWorks receives more funding than CareerPoint. But agency partners are equally critical to its ability to serve people and their on-site representatives. Those partners include Westover Job Corps, the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission, the Department of Education, the Resource Partnership, Hampden County Jail, the Mass. Commission for the Blind, the Commonwealth Corp., and state agencies such as the Department of Social Services and the Division of Employment and Training.
As the labor market has undergone change, FutureWorks has focused on health care and precision manufacturing, since those industries continue to experience growth.
The agency takes advantage of every opportunity, and was the second one-stop in the state to receive a national emergency grant related to a weather disaster. Picard said the Regional Employment Board received $3 million after the tornado on June 1, 2011 that allowed FutureWorks to hire people to do humanitarian work as well as clean-up, which in some instances led to full-time employment.
“We hired four staff people to administer the grant money; two focused on Springfield, and the other two focused on Monson and Brimfield,” Picard explained, adding that the agency has also deepened its link with Springfield Technical Community College.
“There is work taking place on both sides of the fence,” she said, adding that the agency has an STCC staff member on site.

Changing Tide
Gadaire said the one-stop career centers are opportunistic.
“Sometimes a program starts because we can easily fill a need, and sometimes the need has been there, and we finally find a way to fill it. But we don’t ever give up trying,” he said.
Picard agreed. “The one-stops have achieved a 50% rate of employment for the people they serve,” she said. “We’re here to give people hope.”