Solving a series of Island problems — lack of trained childcare providers and trades workers — by solving another Island problem — lack of local learning opportunities — is part of the revised mission of the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Education and Training (MVCET), formerly called ACE MV. 

As part of a new partnership with the Bristol and Cape Cod community colleges, MVCET is offering new workforce trainings and higher-education classes on-Island. The pilot program, called the Martha’s Vineyard College Consortium, intends to provide greater educational opportunities to Vineyard residents.

Holly Bellebuono, executive director of MVCET said this new program as a turning point for the training center and for residents who previously had no option but to move off-Island for higher education. “In the past we’ve offered enrichment courses like dance or cooking, but recently we’ve completely shifted to serving not just the desires of people, but their needs,” Ms. Bellebuono said. “With this new college consortium, high school graduates no longer have to leave [the Island] to be a college student. They’re not incurring the financial burden, the loss of social network and support systems that moving away can bring.”

Ms. Bellebuono said that aside from offering new general education courses such as English, many of these new courses seek to address the specific needs of the Island, which has been uniquely affected by the national labor shortage. The courses, available to all Vineyard residents starting this September, include early childhood education training, electrician training, and nurse aide training. MVCET is also offering three courses as a part of the 23-credit program to become a certified offshore wind technician.

According to two different studies conducted by MVCET and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Island is particularly affected by a lack of childcare providers. Ms. Bellebuono hopes that the new early childcare offering will help alleviate this deficit.

“It’s a serious issue on the Island,” Ms. Bellebuono said. “Any Vineyard resident who signs up [for the program] will get tons of support, including scholarships and additional training and licensing.”

The offshore wind technology certificate, which has been offered in previous years, is another example of MVCET adapting to the economic landscape of the Island. The certificate program offered through Bristol Community College aims to prepare Vineyard residents for the ongoing Vineyard Wind Project.

“The goal is to have Vineyard residents take those jobs,” Ms. Bellebuono said. “This fall is our fourth cohort. We’ve had eight people graduate, and we’re already welcoming at least seven this year, although sign-ups are still ongoing.”

Ironically, MVCET too has been affected by the Island’s labor shortage. Part of the challenge of offering more courses on-Island, Ms. Bellebuono said, lies in sufficient staffing.

“Our biggest challenge is finding someone willing to teach,” Ms. Bellebuono said. “We’d love to expand our program. At the same time, we’ve had fully enrolled courses we’ve had to cancel because we couldn’t find an instructor. I guess people are just so busy.”

The introduction of remote learning has also proved tricky, as MVCET is currently in the process of transiting from all-online instruction to hybrid and in-person learning. While some students (and instructors) prefer the flexibility of online courses, Ms. Bellebuono stressed the importance of in-person learning to build community and keep students engaged.

“Remote learning is isolating,” she said. “It doesn’t build confidence…it can be confusing. Going to college is about being part of a community, moving forward as a group and building a sense of identity. Remote learning puts the burden on the individual more than ever.”

“Going forward, we’re looking into how to balance the flexibility of online learning with that in-person support,” she added.

Although this is the pilot year of the college consortium, Ms. Bellebuono hopes young people and older residents alike will take advantage of the new offerings so MVCET can continue to serve the community.

“We want a culture change,” Ms. Bellebuono said. “We’re alerting families that they don’t need to go away to get an education. They can get one here. We want employers to invest in employees, and we want the culture to shift so people invest in these opportunities.”