Anyone who has tried to book an electrician or plumber, hire an employee, or recruit medical staff on Martha’s Vineyard knows first-hand that this Island is running low on skilled workers, with retirements outpacing replacements.

But a professional career here can seem out of reach to Vineyard high school graduates who can’t afford to pursue training on the mainland.

“They don’t want to live away from home because it’s too expensive. College is too expensive,” said Nancy Hoffman, who chairs the board of ACE (Adult & Community Education) MV.

Other high school graduates may start at college before realizing it’s not for them, said Alex Bullen Coutts, who became ACE MV’s executive director last July.

“There’s so much support in this community for getting you to a four-year college, but it might actually not be the right thing for everyone,” Alex said.

While they may have housing on the Island, many young people often are on their own when it comes to planning their futures.

“[Once graduated] they don’t have the school guidance team,” Alex said.

As a result, Nancy said, some Islanders find themselves working odd jobs for years after high school. “We have a prolonged transition to adulthood,” she said.

Founded as an adult enrichment nonprofit with far less emphasis on vocations, ACE MV is refocusing on Islanders who want careers, even if they’re not yet sure exactly what they want to do, Alexandra said.

“They [can] ask even just very beginning questions like ‘What’s my aptitude? What would I be interested in studying? What are some options for me and how do I pay for them? How do I enroll in them?’” she said.

Adult Islanders of all ages can earn certificates and degrees online through ACE MV and its Martha’s Vineyard Community College Consortium, founded two years ago in partnership with community colleges on Cape Cod and the South Coast.

Four-year colleges in the consortium include Fitchburg State, Alex said, and Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School — which has an adult division — is another partner.

The ACE MV programs are designed for Islanders who want to explore new careers with a high likelihood of employment on the labor-hungry Vineyard — but may only want to commit to one class at a time.

“What we’ve seen is that once they see they can do it, they’re more likely to say, ‘You know what, I want to take another class next semester; maybe I want to try two classes; maybe I want to enroll in a full associate’s degree program,’” she said.

The early childhood education program is a particularly-accessible springboard, Alex said. “You can take the first required course and if you have employment — if you’re already working in a preschool setting — that’s really all you need for your licensure,” she said. Becoming a lead teacher or preschool director takes just three more courses, Alex said.

“It’s a short pathway: people can see the end of it from the beginning,” she said. “It feels manageable, and they’re working as they’re doing it, so it tends to make sense for adult learners.”

Islanders pursuing careers in the building trades can prepare for examinations to be licensed as hoisting operators or construction supervisors, and ACE MV is also partnering with Upper Cape on a tuition-free electrical code and theory program.

“It ends in the apprentice’s ability to sit for the licensure exam [for] master electrician,” Alexandra said.

A 32-credit certificate course in small business and entrepreneurship management, through Fall River's Bristol Community College, is new for ACE MV this year — and also free of charge, after Massachusetts Congressman William Keating secured federal funding for the program.

This winter and spring, for Islanders who want to see whether a particular career is right for them, ACE MV is offering exploration programs in early childhood education, English-Brazilian Portuguese translation and wellness and health care.

Each program includes regular meetings with Islanders in each field, career counseling and support for tuition, child care and transportation.

The career explorations, along with courses in basic and intermediate Brazilian Portuguese, are part of ACE MV’s Off-Season Survival School, a new program in development.

Donor and community support is critical to these offerings, she said.

“The funding that we get from community partners is mostly around tuition support. It makes a huge difference in the lives of these students and participants,” Alex said.

A former editor of The Vine and the author of four young adult novels, Alex has also worked with young Islanders at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and the nonprofit MVYouth. Now she's working to raise ACE MV’s profile at the high school.

“I’ve been doing that by physically being in the [regional] high school pretty regularly, going to visit classes,” she said.

“I have a great relationship with the high school guidance team [and] we’re working on building this relationship with the charter school as well,” Alex continued.

“Hopefully, eventually, high school students will all know what we are and what we can do, because there's this population of students who may want to go to college but can’t,” she said.

Louisa Hufstader is senior writer for the Vineyard Gazette.