Career Fair Highlights Hopes, Struggles of Area Job Search

William Compton walked confidently through the wide aisles at a recent 1Berkshire Career Fair in a sharp gray suit and gold tie. His smile was infectious as he shook hands with potential employers and made connections that could be advantageous in his job search.

During a quick break from networking, William outlined his extensive background in urban planning and economic development. He would love to stay in the Berkshires to be close to family and enjoy the beautiful scenery and cultural organizations, but noted that, “it’s difficult to find that mid- and upper-level management position here. In the level I am in my field, there’s just not a whole lot out there.”

Still, William smiled some more and said his experience could bring a lot to the table at a wide array of companies. The possibilities are endless, as he sees it.

“My attitude to the career fair isn’t, ‘Oh, I don’t see any jobs here for me,’” he said. “I want to meet people, be flexible and see if together we can find a position that’s a good fit for both of us.”

William Compton at job fair

Photo by John Dolan

Listen: Job seeker William Compton provides perspective on the market

That positive outlook was shared by many attendees at the annual event, which was held at Berkshire Community College. While concerns regarding transportation and lack of available positions were a common thread among job-seekers, the career fair was full of residents who were optimistic about their prospects and plan to keep their search limited to Berkshire County.

Deontae Hamilton, 19, of Pittsfield viewed his first career fair as “second chance” to reach his full potential. “I know I could have done better in high school,” he said before excitedly discussing his goals. “I like music production and rapping. My dream is to meet famous artists. That dream is on pause, so attending a mechanic school could get me started. I used to work on cars with family members.”

His 19-year-old friend, Isaiah Johnson, of Pittsfield graduated from Taconic High School last year. He studied welding for three years at Taconic, and it quickly became his favorite class. He plans to attend a skilled trade program to hone his craft.

“I feel like the jobs are a little scarce in the Pittsfield area depending on what type of job you’re looking for,” Isaiah said, acknowledging that transportation issues can make it difficult to pursue every lead.

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Photos by John Dolan

Even though a Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation survey found that more than 1/3 of residents who would consider moving cited the lack of available jobs — including Deontae and Isaiah, who both said they would leave Berkshire County for new opportunities — Marius Jaskowski hopes to relocate to the Berkshires from Long Island. He works in the technology field, and he stopped by the career fair in search of a director-level position.

“Long Island is a tough place to live. It’s very congested,” he said. “The Berkshires has more of a feeling, an allure, a lifestyle I need for myself and my family. I have a lot of friends and colleagues that have moved to this area. It’s a different mentality. It’s not so cutthroat. It’s a good environment with good energy. I like the area and the people.”

Geralyn Mix of Savoy has been an administrative assistant for her entire career. When she found herself in need of a new position, she decided to attend her first job fair and was happy to learn about local companies she wouldn’t have considered before meeting their representatives in person.

Geralyn “definitely plans to stay in the area,” and she has a tip for employers: “They need to embrace their older, more experienced employees. And they need to take a look at resumés personally.”

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Photos by John Dolan

Employers, of course, also have goals at a career fair. They need to find employees who will fit the required skill sets and will align with their mission. Employers say it can be challenging to hire a qualified candidate. A shortage of skilled workers also has them struggling to fill openings.

Rousselet Robatel, a manufacturer of high-technology centrifuges and process equipment systems for the chemical engineering industry, has been located in Pittsfield since 1978. It is the subsidiary of a French company that employs more than 200 people worldwide. Gregory Cybulski stood at Robatel’s career fair booth in search of a technician — a position they have been trying to fill for nearly two years.

“It’s very, very difficult to find the skill set we’re looking for: chemical engineering. We’re actively looking for people. We’re not specifying that a degree is required. We’re looking for an eager employee, someone who wants to work and make a career and stay local,” he said. “We have the opportunities. We really do. We’re not going anywhere.”

Gregory spoke at length about the perks of living and working in the Berkshires — including its arts and culture community, which is part of a thriving creative industry for the region’s economy — and he passionately emphasized that there are “a lot of talented technically oriented companies and people working here.”

He also feels strongly that high-speed transportation options would allow people to commute from outside the area. “The environment is already great. There are many rewarding opportunities for people to come here. But you have to facilitate the movement of people.”

Gregory Cybulski of Rousselet Robatel

Photo by John Dolan

Listen: Greg Cybulski of Rousselet Robatel in Pittsfield discusses recruitment and the skills gap

Onyx Specialty Papers based in South Lee, Mass., produces highly engineered paper for technically demanding applications, including laminate floors and countertops, signs, fine arts papers and even automotive parts. To maneuver the skills divide, Human Resources Manager Mike Tullock said that new employees undertake a comprehensive training program.

“We’re really looking for the skills of punctuality and attendance,” he said. “Are they willing to learn and do the job that was taught to them? Are they motivated to develop their skills and grow a career with us?”

To entice workers to stay in Berkshire County, Mike said that they focus on having a “good culture” at the organization and constantly strive to improve their practices.

“When people come to work with us, they tend to stay with us. We try to hire the right people to work with our organization,” he said. “I think it says a lot about our company and what we do. When people come work for us, they’re not just coming to make paper. They’re coming to an organization that has a really good reputation. People come to us because we help them solve problems and design new things.”

Solving problems brings us back to William, in his sharp gray suit and gold tie. Standing near the career fair’s exit, he shared one more positive lesson:  “I think in all the positions I’ve held, I’ve always been trying to make my communities a better place to live. That’s just the key.”

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation