‘Set yourself apart from everyone else’ Secretary Acosta says

By Jim Kinney | jkinney@repub.com

WESTFIELD — Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski loves what Westfield High School’s Reed Career Center is doing to get students ready not just for the job search but also for the jobs they get.

And on Tuesday he found a ready audience in Rosalin Acosta, the state’s secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. Acosta toured the center Tuesday morning, meeting with students and hearing how their job searches and career preparations are coming.

Earlier, she sat in on the monthly meeting of the Westfield Education to Business Alliance, or WE2BA, an organization the schools and the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce formed in 2017 that helps business and employers adopt classrooms, hosts job fairs and facilitates tours of workplaces.

“It’s all about connections,” Czaporowski said.

Kate Phelon, executive director of the chamber, said WE2BA started off with the goal of getting six classrooms — in all grade levels — adopted by community partners. It now has 23 adopted classrooms.

Czaporowski said WE2BA has 50 member organizations and the next job fair is set for April 16.

Acosta said she was impressed by the partnership’s emphasis on what some employers call “soft skills” like customer service, punctuality and the ability to follow written and oral directions. She calls them essential skills.

High school Senior Ethan Bibee summed up the lesson.

“You have to be responsible,” he said. “Just get the task done.”

He hopes to get into manufacturing by taking the precision machining courses at Springfield Technical Community College next year.

Acosta told a group of eight seniors that they are looking to graduate at a good time for job seekers. Statistics show that there are about 200,000 open jobs in Massachusetts right now. But only 110,000 to 115,000 people looking for work.

The goal, Acosta said, is to match up the skills people have with the skills employers want. That’s why she touted training programs for manufacturing, information technology and early college programs that let high schoolers earn college credit.

“Set yourself apart from everybody else looking,” Acosta said.

Gladys Lebron-Martinez, youth center director at MassHire Holyoke, which runs the Reed Center at Westfeild High School, said the center offers instruction in resume writing and interviewing skills, help with taking military placement exams and connections for internships, part-time jobs and other hands-on experiences.

The Reed Center sees a few hundred students in an average month, said Coordinator Daisha Serrano. It’s the only one of its kind in the region and one of only a few high-school based MassHire-affiliated career centers in the state.

The school district funds MassHire Holyoke Career Center with $75,000 a year to operate the career center.

Czaporowski said it’s not a matter of learning vocational skills instead of planning for college. Half the graduates of Westfield Vocational Technical Academy go on almost immediately to higher education, he said. And often that’s at the behest of their employers.

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