Recently, I participated in a Zoom meeting with about 25 other ACE organizations from around Massachusetts. We were a down-to-earth bunch, all working remotely to keep programs alive in our communities. And while I knew that ACE MV was somewhat different from other statewide programs, I discovered that we are truly unique in that we offer substantial workforce development classes, while almost all other ACE organizations offer only enrichment.

Through ACE MV, Island professionals have the opportunity to engage in a variety of credentialing programs that would otherwise be inaccessible. Our partners include Fitchburg State University, Bristol Community College, Cape Cod Community College, and MassHire.

We also serve as an intermediary for our high school. Not all high school graduates want a four-year college liberal arts experience. Many young adults on the Vineyard rely on innovative solutions for training so they don’t have to move away to earn a degree. Earning certificates or licenses — especially in trades and health care — puts students one step ahead. ACE MV works closely with the regional high school to make these opportunities possible.

Island graduates are also at risk of going away to college only to return without having achieved a degree. Vineyard non-graduates often return to the Island with a tremendous skills gap.

The need is clear. Islanders require effective, accessible training. Did you know that many Island teachers must obtain their master’s in education degree within five years of starting teaching? For a long time local residents had to leave the Island for this type of degree. ACE MV solved this problem by partnering with Fitchburg State University to offer a fully-accredited masters in education program on-Island. To date, nearly two dozen local teachers have earned their degrees here. Gardeners, landscapers, health care workers and clinicians, business owners, technicians and trades people can all earn credentials through ACE MV.

ACE MV is looking to the future and asking key questions. How will renewable energy needs shape our training for trades people? How will sustainable farming methods shape horticulture? How will the Vineyard’s focus toward home-care and elder care shift medical training demands? To address these needs, ACE is preparing nursing, gerontology and dementia care courses; early childhood education and social services licensing; and new skills training for workers in energy efficient construction, heating and fueling done with guidance from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s climate action task force.

Our residents want to be here, learn here and work here. Work strategies will require a nuanced approach as our culture shifts in light of the pandemic. How do you stay relevant in your profession? A key answer is through active learning.

I’ve learned Martha’s Vineyard is proud of its little nonprofit that serves as a community college, creating resources that would not be here otherwise. It’s time for Island towns to wholeheartedly support lifelong education and prioritize workforce training for Vineyarders. It’s time for community partners to step up with needed funds for tuition and programming, and to recognize the Islandwide benefits that come from an educated and skilled population.

Holly Bellebuono is the executive director of ACE MV.