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MCLA Career Fair in North Adams boosts variety of vocational programs

01/11/2013- The Berkshire Eagle

NORTH ADAMS -- Northern Berkshire County eighth-graders may still be unsure of what they want to be when they grow up, but now they may have a better idea.

"I'm still trying to figure that out," Mary Grant, the president of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, told 363 eighth-grade students -- the future workforce -- who attended the second annual North County Career Fair held for them on Thursday at the college.

The event included students from Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter, Drury High, Clarksburg Elementary, Hoosac Valley, Mount Greylock and Gabriel Abbott Memorial schools.

Students were able to choose to attend two sessions from a total of 19 career workshops, ranging from advanced manufacturing to television and social marketing. The latter workshop used Twitter to provide live updates about the event.

"I thought it was a cool thing for everyone to experience," said Olivia DiNicola, a Mount Greylock eighth-grader, thinking over the career fair. She said she's leaning toward a career in the sports field, and she attended workshops on sports and on psychology and sociology. Sports was the day's most attended workshop.

DiNicola said she liked the 90-minute program, particularly because eighth-graders don't get to discuss careers much in school.

Joshua Mendel, an associate director of admission at MCLA, said that last year's pilot program received "stacks of positive feedback."

"I think kids left really motivated and inspired after getting to talk with someone who works in their dream job," he said.

A total of 35 Berkshire-based professionals volunteered to present to students, and 17 of the presenters were new this year. They emphasized reading, writing, basic math and social skills as skills critical to success across the career field.

Mary Nash, a project coordinator for the Berkshire Compact initiative, which developed and supports the fair, said that this year's event added career workshops in the fields of forensic science, dentistry, advanced manufacturing, social marketing and culinary arts.

"Advanced manufacturing is an area that we are especially interested in promoting. There are growing areas of manufacturing that require higher skill levels -- we want students to understand that manufacturing is not a dying area, but an area of growth and potential," she said.

"The difference now between this and your father's machine shop is automation, and there's a significant gap in people who have the skill set today to do this and the number of jobs in manufacturing," said Scott Boto, a teacher at McCann Technical School in North Adams.

He co-presented the advance manufacturing workshop with John Tatro, a program coordinator and professor in the engineering and technology program at Berkshire Community College.

"Another interesting thing is I've seen a significant increase in young girls interested in the tech field, and they're usually outperforming the guys," Tatro said.