For Immediate Release - September 27, 2012

New Research Finds Berkshire Region Facing Challenge Creating Next Generation of Skilled Workers

Region is one of the oldest in the state and is losing population

PITTSFIELD – Thursday, September 27, 2012 – The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston today announced the Berkshire region faces the demographic challenges of an aging population that is also shrinking in size, according to a new study released today. The report, entitled Labor Market Trends in the Berkshire Region, is part of a joint project of EOLWD’s Commonwealth Corporation and the Boston Fed’s New England Public Policy Center.

“Companies are already facing the challenges of an aging workforce. As the baby boomers retire, they will create a significant talent and succession gap,” said Joanne Goldstein, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. “We support those companies that have developed innovative strategies benefiting both their workers and their bottom line. We encourage and will work with those companies that also want to build on opportunities to meet these challenges.”

The Berkshire region is the second oldest region in the state, and Massachusetts is one of the oldest states in the country. Half of the region’s civilian labor force – residents aged 16 or older who are working or looking for work – are older workers. In 2008-2010, nearly 50 percent ( 49.4) of the Berkshire region’s civilian labor force was 45 years of age or older and nearly 25 percent (23.5) were 55 years or older. And, Berkshire’s labor force growth stagnated over the past decade. While the share of workers aged 45 years and older grew by 2.1 percent, these were gains offset by declines in workers under 44 years (1.3 percent).

“Knowing that we have traditionally had more mature workers than the rest of the state, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce has worked tirelessly to help companies with succession planning efforts," said Michael Supranowicz, President & CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "Through programs such as the Youth Leadership Program, Berkshire Leadership Program, and Berkshire Young Professionals, we work diligently to engage young people, and have even worked to create trailing spouse employment opportunities. We have an innovative, collaborative spirit in the Berkshires and will continue to create opportunities to strengthen our workforce.”

Young people in the Berkshire regions are disproportionately unemployed. In 2008-2010, although people between 16 and 24 years old were only 14.1 percent of the civilian labor force in Berkshire, they accounted for the largest share of unemployed among age cohorts (29.0 percent). Disproportional unem­ployment among the young also occurs in Massachusetts and the United States.

“Across the state, our young people are struggling to gain a foothold in the labor market. Creating strategies to increase youth employment must be a priority. Early work experience generates important work readiness skills, and a lack of work history leads to a weak connection to the labor market over a worker’s lifetime,” said Nancy Snyder, President of Commonwealth Corporation.

While the education levels in Berkshire have been increasing over the past decade, they are well below those in Massachusetts and are similar to those in the United States. And, Berkshire was the only regional labor market to see declines in the number of Certificates, Associate’s Degrees, and Bachelor’s Degrees completed in the past decade. By 2008-2010, 30.2 percent of Berkshire’s civilian labor force had a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, compared with 41.2 percent for Massachusetts and 29.6 percent for the U.S.. At the same time, the share of working-age residents in Berkshire with less than a high degree is lower than that in Massachusetts. In the Berkshire, 12.7 percent of the working-age population does not have a high school degree, compared with 13.9 percent in Massachusetts.

“Looking forward, the Berkshire region faces the challenge of replacing older workers as they retire from the labor market. Recent declines in the number of degree completions compounds this problem and suggests a real need for a concerted effort and collaborative effort to address future labor market challenges,” said Yolanda Kodrzycki, Vice President and Director of the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The region’s higher education institutions have a critical role to play in influencing the region’s future supply of workers. In Berkshire, there were two public institutions and three private institutions granting post-secondary degrees in 2010. Although more students have enrolled in post-secondary institutions in Berkshire over the past decade, this increase has not translat­ed into an increase in the number of degree completed. In fact, Berkshire was the only regional labor market in the state where there were declines in the number of students earning Certificates, Associate’s Degrees, and Bachelor’s Degrees in the past decade.

”Berkshire County’s higher education institutions have been working closely with workforce and economic development partners and have developed a number of innovative partnerships in healthcare, manufacturing and business services to help bridge the skills gap”, said Albert A. Ingegni, III, President of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. “Although more work is needed to raise skill levels and credential attainment, the Berkshires already have a good foundation to build on.”

The full report and appendices are available online today at http://www.bostonfed.org/neppc

About Commonwealth Corporation: Commonwealth Corporation strengthens the skills of youth and adults by investing in innovative partnerships with industry, education, and workforce organizations. We seek to meet the immediate and emerging needs of businesses and workers so that they can thrive in our dynamic economy. Commonwealth Corporation is a Massachusetts quasi-public corporation within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

About the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston: The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has a decades-long tradition of supporting the New England public policy community. In 2005, the Bank established the New England Public Policy Center to reinvigorate and institutionalize that support. The Center promotes better public policy in New England by conducting and disseminating objective, high-quality research and analysis of strategically identified regional economic and policy issues and, when appropriate, works with regional and Bank partners to advance identified policy options.

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