It's a problem that has been on the horizon for years in Connecticut and now it's here: there's tens of thousands of open jobs and not enough candidates to fill them.
The federal government is making the biggest investment in generations in submarines, fighter jets and helicopters, all of which are built here in Connecticut.
The state needs engineers and employees for high-end manufacturing jobs and fast.
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NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with the state's first chief manufacturing officer, Colin Cooper, on the issue.
Mike: "So, we started to see some creative partnerships recently like the one with Goodwin College, the state, and then a lot of these defense contractors. Will those partnerships be enough to fill the demand that's needed?"
Cooper: "They're necessary but not sufficient. As you know, there's a critical need to train people to enter the manufacturing workforce. And then there's also a need to upskill our incumbent workers, but we estimate we need between six and 8,000 new entrants into manufacturing every year. And right now, we're training about half that number. So there's actually a lot going on in the state right now to increase the throughput into what I call our talent training infrastructure. Increase the throughput, get more candidates into the training, and through the training, and into the manufacturing workforce."
Mike: "We know the contract for submarines coming up is probably 30 to 40 years. We're a part of our manufacturers and the F35 jet. Helicopters are brand new coming online, as well. There's a lot of jobs - not to mention, Stanley is looking for people of the future as well. There's other contractors in Connecticut, we know that kids now in school are much more digitally native than you or I ever were, it would be easier for them to understand some of this new virtual reality stuff that training systems like the high tech drafting software. Is there a push to get these into public schools? Not just tech schools?"
Cooper: "Yes, absolutely. So, what we need to do is we've got a great talent training infrastructure at our community college level, we've got advanced manufacturing training centers around the state. And then we've done a good job sort of recapitalizing our technical high schools. And there's still more work to do there, but we've got a very strong technical high school and strong manufacturing programs there. But we need to tap into the kids in the comprehensive high schools, definitely. We graduate on the order of 9,000 students from our comprehensive high schools annually, that aren't going into the military or going on to college and we look at that as a river of talent coming through our comprehensive high school. A lot of those students have a mathematical and mechanical aptitude. We need to identify those candidates and get them access to training. So yes, and we're starting to see the comprehensive high schools, you know, take an interest in this and develop programs to get their students training in manufacturing."
Mike: "So when we start to see some of these partnerships take place - I mentioned the one in Hartford, there's one in East Hartford, related to Pratt, we know about the pipeline. The STEM pipeline is done in the eastern part of the state. There are defense contractors, plenty of them in the southwest quarter, too. We're talking about Bridgeport and Stratford. Are there any opportunities there for students to try to go through this path there?"
Cooper: "Absolutely, yeah. So I mean, there's some great programs down there. Housatonic, Gateway does some work, and then even some of the high schools down there, Platt Tech. There's a great program at one of the comprehensive high schools in Hamden. So, you know, across the state, there are good programs. We just need to make people aware of them and make sure that they have access to those programs. I think, you know, you talk mostly and certainly, all these defense contracts are front of mind. But our manufacturers in medical, automotive, and electronics, they're all busy, they've done their jobs, they've gone out and created demand for their products and services. Now they need people to fill the jobs that they've created. These jobs have been created, we just need candidates to fill them. And I think what people need to understand, not just the the students, but the parents, the educators, the administrators need to understand is that manufacturing provides not just good jobs, but great career opportunities, lifelong career opportunities, and that there's a misperception that when a student begins their career in manufacturing, that they've ended their educational career, and that's just not the case. Most manufacturers will work with early career employees and help them continue their education, and in many instances will pay for that continuing education. So this is a great option for our younger people. And also we're working to track mid-career and later career people into manufacturing. These are exciting career opportunities that pay well above state averages."
Mike: "We know there's a tremendous need. Can we address what happens if that need is not met? Looking into the future, if we have upwards of the next five years, a need of 30 to 40,000 new employees for all of these businesses, what happens if it's not filled? Do we have to go out-of-state? Do we have to go out of the country? Will those jobs leave here?"
Cooper: "Well, yeah, it's a lost opportunity that there's demand for these products and somebody needs to make it. That demand will find supply. So what we're working on, Connecticut, is making sure that we develop the pipelines that you talked about to supply the people that we need to make these products. If we don't do that, those products will be made elsewhere, but I'm very confident. I mean, the governor stood up the Governor's Workforce Council and out of that came a workforce strategic plan. That plan is well thought out and as is implementable and is being implemented now. And I think if we crack the code here in Connecticut on our workforce needs, which I'm optimistic that we're going to do, then I think we have a great opportunity to bring work into the state and then actually bring other employers into state to access our workforce to make their products."