THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
by Jessica Willis
September 21, 2006
What do a venture capitalist, an artistic director of a theater company, a co-creator of an anatomical model design and a production company, and a president of a custom molder firm have in common?
They all know that in order to maintain a competitive edge in their fields, they must be visionaries and be able to understand, interpret and manifest the future of their business. Moreover, they all understand that the future of their industries demands not only flexibility, but the ability to offer both a breadth and depth of unparalleled ideas, products and services.
We recently sat down with four industry leaders to discover their projections for future Berkshire County job opportunities and what those will require in training and education. The leaders are:
Matt Harris, President and CEO of Village Ventures, a Williamstown venture capital firm focusing on finance and investments.
Julianne Boyd, Founder and Artistic Director of the Barrington Stage Company which recently relocated to Pittsfield.
Lisa Chamberlain, Managing Partner of The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington, which designs and manufactures anatomical models used for training, sales, marketing and development of medical devices and procedures.
Don Rochelo, President of Apex Resource Technologies, a plastics manufacturing company located in Pittsfield.
Why have you chosen to locate or keep your business in Berkshire County?
Matt: I founded the firm along with a partner and both of us have homes in Williamstown, and both of us love the area. We just wanted to be in the Berkshires. The other reason is that it’s less expensive here than in Boston or New York which would be our logical market.
Julianne: The local residents are really supportive of the arts, I think they understand the importance of art, I think they understand the importance of tourism as a business, and that it rests primarily with the arts.
Lisa: It was primarily a lifestyle choice for Eric (Chamberlain, her husband and partner who runs the design development area) and me. So with the transportability, particularly ours, which is really international, and the growing flexibility of the Internet, we were pretty much able to locate wherever we wanted.
Don: This is an absolutely gorgeous area. I grew up in this area, and due to the economic downturn around 2000, even because of that, the plastics industry in Berkshire County, has been relatively stable. Some states have lost hundreds and hundreds of plastics companies as a result of the economic downturn, but in my opinion, businesses here have been able to stay fairly stable, and are growing.
What are the jobs of the future in your line of business?
Matt: You could see more firms in asset management in different places, as location becomes less and less important. You can run a hedge fund or an investment fund almost anywhere now, whereas in the past you had to be down on Wall St. That’s a real opportunity for the Berkshires.
Julianne: We’re going to be doing a lot more in educational outreach throughout the year. We have a very active program for youth at risk, as well as a drama program year round. We will be hiring more people in that area.
Lisa: We’re doing a lot of work with research and development departments of medical device companies who have engineers who need anatomical models to react to. We feel that there are opportunities beyond even the specific niche that we’re in now with anatomy development, across other kinds of industrial design work that we will definitely see more of in the future.
Don: We will need software engineers, mechanical engineers-these are the people who can build, expedite and troubleshoot automation. You’re bringing in a higher pay structure of employment, but the payoff is huge.
We’re doing more sales with less people and the general game plan is to continue that trend. The future jobs in this business are technical. Technical in every possible way that you can use the term. I’ve hired three engineers of various types in the last year. There’s more sophisticated equipment in the facility to automate, therefore, more sophisticated technical skills are required.
What qualifications will future potential job applicants need to be considered to work in your line of business?
Matt: Bookkeeping, CPAs or other kind of accounting qualifications, and paralegal. We struggle to find high level finance people. CFO types. We’ve had success recruiting people here.
Julianne: They have to have some understanding of arts and theater. Do they have to have done theater? No. Theater requires good quick decision making and the ability to move off of those decisions if they are not working. I think theater is a great training ground for people coming into the job market. You’re making decisions based on human and financial resources.
Lisa: We’re looking for people with a thorough understanding of what it means to be an employee and to come in every day, giving us the best that they’ve got.
Don: You need a knowledge of mechanical engineering and sophisticated management software. Everything we do in our business is of a technical nature. We use an enormous amount of computers. All of our mold makers have a computer at each station. Even the junior employees require a higher skill level; it’s better that they have an associate degree.
In your opinion, what are the primary skill sets that the workforce of the future will require to succeed?
Matt: I think we need folks with higher level financial skills on every level.
Julianne: It’s like being on fire: stop, drop and roll. Stop if there’s a problem, drop the decision if it isn’t working, and roll with the punches.
Lisa: A great attitude, first and foremost. People who are hungry for jobs and to do their best work are going to be the people who succeed. If we think that just showing up is enough, we’ve already seen why it isn’t. Opportunities will be provided to those with great attitudes and a great work ethic. That’s what we’re frankly finding the hardest to find. If somebody comes to us without those qualities, it’s the hardest to nurture. We can teach the skills that are needed to do a particular task, but a real willingness to jump in and be receptive to learning and thoroughness-Eric calls it “doing the last five percent”-that really makes a difference to us.
Don: The truth of the matter is, is that the so-called blue collar worker and how we use them in the future will be less and less. It’s a huge change. [Employees in the workforce of the future] need, at the very least, sophisticated computer skills.
The workforce of the future will be a place that rewards those who are flexible, educated, personable, and well-rounded, and who have specialized technical skills. Opportunities in arts, tourism, finance, management, healthcare and engineering (to name but a few) abound in the Berkshires; it is the responsibility of the employee of the future to be prepared for the almost limitless opportunities that are available.