Amid Connecticut's budget woes, the state received a nice gift last week from manufacturer and electronics maker Siemens.
The German conglomerate announced it is donating $315 million worth of manufacturing and product design software to the state's community colleges to help better prepare students for advanced-manufacturing careers.
According to Siemens, the software is used by many innovative companies in the state, giving students real-world experience that will better prepare them for the workforce.
This is the type of private-public partnership Connecticut must promote and do more of if it wants to remain competitive in building its future workforce. As state government struggles with its fiscal crisis and takes the necessary steps to rein in spending, there will be less money available to invest in certain areas, including higher education and workforce development, as crucial as they are.
The timing, of course, couldn't be worse as Connecticut faces a graying workforce and higher demand for skilled workers at some of our largest companies. Electric Boat, for example, intends to grow its 11,000-employee workforce to 18,000 by 2030, requiring it to hire 14,000 workers in the years ahead, according to a recently released report by the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century (CT21), a policy think tank.
East Hartford jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney needs to hire 8,000 new workers over the next decade to keep up with demand for its military and commercial engines.
At the same time, the challenges we face in training the next generation of workers in Connecticut are immense. According to the CT21 report, not only is Connecticut's manufacturing workforce graying and heading into retirement, but we also have training programs with limited capacity and jobs-skills requirements that are evolving faster than training curriculums.
All these factors have left us with an inadequate supply of qualified, skilled workers, which is a major threat to our economy. At a time when Connecticut's job growth remains in neutral, some of our state's manufacturers are looking to hire, but can't find bodies to fill their shop floors.
We've highlighted some of these issues in the past. HBJ News Editor Gregory Seay recently reported that the state's vocational-technical high school system lacks enough instructors to teach advanced manufacturing courses, lengthening the time it takes to train students.
There is a bill in the legislature (Senate Bill 950) that would try to remedy that problem by trimming the minimum experience level required, from eight to five years, to become a certified vo-tech instructor. We urge lawmakers to adopt it.
The only way this state will fill these well-paying, career-oriented jobs is if policymakers work with private industry to develop new, innovative ways to train and recruit workers. The alternative is that more companies will relocate operations to states that can fill their employment needs.
We've already seen plenty of examples of this. Don't forget General Electric moved its headquarters to Boston to be closer to technology talent; United Technologies Corp. just announced that it's building a $300 million digital technology center in Brooklyn, N.Y. for the same reason.
To be fair, plenty of public-private partnerships already exist in Connecticut. Pratt & Whitney, for example, has an additive manufacturing innovation center at UConn and groups like the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology are providing training and education opportunities to those old and young. Meantime, there are companies that have established their own apprenticeship and training programs as well.
But we need more of these collaborations.
As part of its report, CT21 offered some commonsense recommendations, including expanding the number of available vo-tech instructors and allowing for more industry input into program and curriculum design. We agree with those ideas, but the private sector must take a leading, proactive role in this area to get what it needs.