Chris Maza, The Reminder
BOSTON – The state Senate recently unanimously approved additional funding for Massachusetts Precision Manufacturing Pilot Program proposed by state Sen. Eric Lesser.
Making his maiden address on the Senate floor, Lesser advocated for an extra $500,000 to bump total funding for the program to close to $1.5 million. A portion of that funding will be utilized to continue the program in Western Massachusetts.
“Every member of the Senate voted for it, 39 to 0, so that was a good feeling, certainly,” Lesser told Reminder Publications. “My hope is this is really just the start because we have a big opportunity here and this is just one small program. If this is the only thing we do, it’s going to help quite a lot of people, but the challenge for us now is to continue that and turn this program into a wider series of proposals for Western Massachusetts.”
Lesser said the purpose of the funding was to address the challenge of training a workforce that is able to fit the needs of the precision manufacturers with a foothold in the region. In his speech, Lesser said there would be an estimated 44,000 vacancies in advanced manufacturing in the next 10 years.
“There’s actually quite a lot; there’s actually several thousand vacant jobs in the manufacturing field just in the Pioneer Valley,” he said. “The problem is we don’t have enough people with the skills to take them, so a gap has emerged.”
“I think one of the most important ways for us to grow our economy here, create more prosperity and more opportunity, is to close that gap by investing in training programs and get people up to speed on the latest technology so they can go get jobs where the demand is,” he continued.
Part of a statewide initiative, the local manufacturing pilot program is a collaboration between the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County and a national trade group for those in the industry.
“You want to make sure the training is very current to what the industry is demanding,” Lesser said.
He added the program, featuring 10 to 15 weeklong courses would target unemployed and underemployed people, as well as veterans in need of jobs upon returning home from overseas. Those in the program would have access to mentors, training and job placement assistance.
In his speech Lesser celebrated the region’s strong history of manufacturing and stressed the need for support in bringing those jobs, which can provide livable wages, benefits and employment security, to help an area “left out of the red-hot economy that developed in the eastern part of the state.”
“We have a history and with that an expertise as a result and all that experience and a lot of families that have been involved in trades and in manufacturing for generations,” he said. “There was a period when a lot of those jobs left our area, but where we really established ourselves is in really specialized, really high-tech manufacturing … Those are very, very good jobs and high-paying jobs. The average salary can approach $75,000.”