April 2, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:58 am
OTHER VOICES

CT leading by example | State meeting the increased demand for manufacturing jobs

Debbie Holton

Connecticut holds a special place in U.S. manufacturing history, from its American Revolution beginnings as "Arsenal of the Nation" to its current status as home to some of our leading aerospace, defense, medical and energy companies.

As the country struggles to grow its manufacturing base, I believe Connecticut will make history again as a state that "got it right" when it comes to manufacturing policy.

I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry after 29 straight months of manufacturing growth, but we have to do more. Businesses are finding it difficult to locate qualified workers, despite the fact 12.8 million Americans remain unemployed. Too many of them have 20th-century skills, when strong technical, problem-solving and communication abilities are what's needed in today's advanced manufacturing environment.

It's apparent that failing to address the worker shortage could be a drag on the economy. A recent study by Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Manufacturing Institute indicates shortages in skilled production jobs are taking their toll on manufacturers' ability to expand operations, drive innovation and improve productivity.

Manufacturers and policymakers in Connecticut clearly understand what's at stake and are deeply invested in finding workers who can operate the precision machinery necessary to meet the needs of commercial and government customers. A manufacturing executive at Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft recently explained there are some low-value components to aircraft that can be manufactured anywhere in the world, but "you need skilled workers to work on high-value components in critical areas, like transmissions."

Today's manufacturing jobs are knowledge jobs. They are key to helping us maintain our competitiveness and quality of life. Manufacturers in Connecticut account for 10.5 percent of the total production in the state, employing 10.3 percent of the workforce. I believe these recent examples of policies and programs instituted by state manufacturers, policymakers and educators all point to investments in education and infrastructure that will define the state's future:

Renewable energy — Last year, the state assembly passed legislation creating the nation's first full-scale clean energy finance agency — the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority. The authority will use public and private funds to facilitate renewable energy deployment in the state, which will require the job skills necessary to build and operate energy from natural sources like wind and solar, or alternate sources, like fuel cells and waste-to-energy conversion.

In addition, the state is supporting the advancement of new energy businesses through its participation in a federal effort to accelerate "proof of concept" and startup activity. The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. plans to reach out to the clean energy manufacturing supply chain on technical expertise for applied research and deployment projects.

Public/private partnerships — CCAT is an example of Connecticut's strong manufacturing support system. The nonprofit provides services to help manufacturers create efficiencies and find the people and technologies to keep them competitive. Their programs include the Manufacturing and Supply Chain Initiative, to help manufacturers increase quality and productivity, and the Connecticut Quality Council.

CONNSTEP is one of 59 affiliate organizations connected to the national network of Manufacturing Extension Partnership organizations. The organization gives manufacturers access to services otherwise available only to larger manufacturers, like business consulting. Over the past two years, CONNSTEP has created or retained 1,687 manufacturing jobs.

Bioscience — Connecticut is home to at least 80 biomedical companies and that number is expected to grow to accommodate an aging population that is living longer and living healthier. Bioscience includes many aspects to improve the quality of health care, including the manufacturing of medical devices, such as joint replacements, implants and valves. The state has made an $864 million investment in the "Bioscience Connecticut" initiative to make the University of Connecticut's Health Center (UCHC) a hub of research and clinical work in bioscience.

Workforce development — Three Connecticut community colleges will be the sites of manufacturing centers as part of Gov. Daniel P. Malloy's bipartisan jobs bill. Included in the bill is $17.8 million in state bond funding for the development of manufacturing programs to fill manufacturing jobs with qualified workers.

Connecticut Manufacturing Job Match — This is an initiative to link qualified manufacturing jobseekers to manufacturing companies looking for candidates with specific skill sets. Potential applicants can assess their current manufacturing skills, learn about training opportunities to upgrade their skills and earn manufacturing credentials.

Just as Connecticut served as the "Arsenal of the Nation" to arm American warfighters, the state has its own arsenal of best practices aimed at filling these jobs and ensure the manufacturing sector is economically secure for many years to come.

Debbie Holton is director of events and industry strategy at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), a leader in manufacturing workforce development issues, working with industry, academic and government partners to support the current and future skilled workforce. SME is producing Mfg4 — Manufacturing 4 the Future Conference and Exposition, which will be held May 8-10 at the Connecticut Convention Center.

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