CT looking to bond $50M to create more 'job-ready' citizens

BY Gregory Seay

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Waterbury's Noujaim Tool Co. is a Connecticut manufacturer that has found success with its apprenticeship-training program.

Apprenticeships on the rise in CT

There are 1,674 employers in Connecticut that sponsor official apprenticeship programs through the state Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training, which is up 6 percent since 2013.

There are 6,343 apprentices registered in Connecticut, up 38 percent since 2013, state labor data shows.

Connecticut taxpayers could fund up to $50 million to train and certify as many as 10,000 eligible residents to fill job shortages in manufacturing, health care and construction, workforce development pros say.

State lawmakers at the end of this year's legislative session quietly authorized the "Apprenticeship Connecticut" initiative, which requires the state Department of Labor and workforce-development agencies in the Hartford area and statewide, to identify and make "job ready'' thousands of unemployed and underemployed residents, ranging from teens to middle-agers, authorities say.

The legislation, which was signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, authorizes the state Bond Commission to appropriate $50 million for the program. It's unclear, however, if that funding will be greenlighted.

A spokesman for Malloy, who chairs the Bond Commission, said it is too early to tell if the funding will be considered at the commission's next meeting, scheduled for July.

If the money is approved, the first apprentice-trainees could be matched with their employer-sponsors by as early as fall, said Jim Boucher, chief strategy officer for Hartford's Capital Workforce Partners.

The effort would be one of the state's most ambitious job-hiring targets in recent memory.

"It really is a dual goal here,'' Boucher said. "This started from the employer-demand side. But we saw the workforce-development needs coming from the unemployed, underemployed and youth-talent pipeline.''

Connecticut's apprenticeship initiative, among its other state workforce-development efforts, comes as several key industries seek to hire qualified workers to meet demand at home and abroad for their products and services.

A major challenge, skills-development and job-placement experts say, is obtaining manufacturing talent. Boucher, too, points to in-state shortages for medical and nursing assistants, and other "middle-skills jobs'' requiring more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a college degree.

This nation's defense buildup, coupled with Americans' fattened paychecks from the recent federal tax cut, has rallied more workers to Groton submarine-builder Electric Boat, East Hartford military- and passenger-jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney and its sister aerosystems maker United Technologies Aerospace Systems in Windsor Locks, as well as Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft.

Between them, plus labor needs from legions of parts and materials suppliers across Connecticut, they will require some 13,000 workers, according to a recent jobs-skills survey/analysis from the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

Program details

Apprenticeships, in which novices are trained and mentored as to the broad facets and nuances of a particular skill, such as welding, metal finishing and tool-and-die making, have grown in popularity in Connecticut, particularly as manufacturers search for talent. Apprentices typically earn a wage or stipend while in skills-training that can last months or even years.

Employers, meantime, gain reliable hands that they can train and, after workers have been certified, offer full-time employment too, Boucher said.

The Apprenticeship Connecticut initiative requires the state Department of Labor to issue by Jan. 1, a request for qualifications to solicit proposals from regional industry partnerships for a workforce pipeline program that serves the needs of manufacturers and other employers.

The partnerships must include at least one educational institution and a regional workforce development board.

Programs must contain several components, including: identification of a region's most pressing workforce needs and how the partnership will address them; recruitment and outreach strategies; trainee screening and assessment criteria; and partnerships with private employers and a commitment by those companies to hire one or more individuals who successfully complete their training, the legislation says.

Separate training programs, which will run for a minimum of five weeks, will be set up for high schoolers and those 18 years of age or older who aren't enrolled in school.

Of the proposed $50 million, no more than 70 percent can be spent on training programs.

The rest can be used for support services, including trainee outreach, recruitment and screening.

The goal is to get 10,000 individuals placed into new jobs over the first four years of the program, the legislation said.

Whether Connecticut's Apprenticeship Initiative pays a wage or a stipend is among the details that must be hammered out by the state Department of Labor, Boucher said.

Broader workforce efforts

Boucher and other observers note the Apprenticeship Connecticut initiative is but the latest in a long chain of state, public and private efforts to equip the least employed and jobless with skills that make them employable.

Hartford's workforce board has been collaborating closely with its industry partners, to help as many as needed maximize opportunities to fulfill their training-staffing requirements, Boucher said.

Among them is the Advanced Manufacturing Employer Partnership, which is co-convened by Capital Workforce Partners and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies.

Also involved is the MetroHartford Alliance for Careers in Health Care, which is co-convened by Capital Workforce Partners and the Workforce Solutions Collaborative of Metro Hartford. Finally, there is also the Capital Workforce Partners Jobs Funnel-Construction Sector.

"We think this will meet an urgent need by employers; that it will have a very significant impact,'' Boucher said.