40 Under 40 The Class of 2016

Christina Grass

Corporate Engagement Coordinator, Training & Workforce Options; Age 30

Christina Grass

Christina Grass

Christina Grass says it’s often difficult for friends and family members to get both hands around what she does for a living.

But to those in the business community or the region’s network of economic-development agencies, the words on her business card certainly resonate. All of them.

Indeed, the program known colloquially as TWO (Training & Workforce Options) has increasingly become part of the local lexicon since it was established five years ago, and the title ‘corporate engagement coordinator’ speaks volumes about her role with this initiative, launched jointly by Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College.

In short, she engages with individual business owners and leaders within individual economic sectors to devise solutions to that perplexing problem known as the ‘skills gap.’

Specifically, she plays a lead role in identifying needs (usually in the form of workers with a certain set of skills) and then blueprinting initiatives to put more of these workers into the pipeline. Her résumé includes work on a project to develop the Advanced Call Center & Customer Service Training Program, an endeavor to provide training in lean manufacturing to area companies, and a collaboration, led by Dress for Success, to pilot a workforce-readiness certificate training program, among others. Such work, she said, is rewarding on many levels.

“That side of my job is amazing … I get to work with individuals who are looking for a second chance; they’re looking for a career instead of just another job,” she noted. “They just need help getting their foot in the door. It’s been great for them, but also for employers, because we’ve been able the deliver the type of candidate they’ve been looking for.”

While helping close the skills gap, Grass has also been active in the community, especially in her native Holyoke. She’s a member of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and strong supporter of the city’s Boys & Girls Club, especially through a program called “A Night for Nick.”

This was a fund-raising initiative — one that garnered more than $120,000 for the agency — named in honor of her bother, Nick, who was killed tragically in a car accident in 2003 along with three fellow Yale classmates.

She completed the New York City Marathon last fall, her first, and has signed up to run the Hartford Marathon in October. That’s appropriate, because her career is now devoted to helping people reach higher and cross the finish line.

— George O’Brien

Photography by Leah Martin Photography