November 16, 2018

Abundance of jobs, paucity of takers

Photo | Michael C. Bingham
Photo | Michael C. Bingham
Panel discussion on 'Solving the Skills Gap in Manufacturing' Thursdays at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford.

Call it the Big Disconnect.

That was one of the story lines at the Big Connect, the annual business expo hosted Thursday by the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. The event took place at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre In Wallingford.

According to Jamison Scott, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturers Association, manufacturing companies in Connecticut currently have some 13,000 unfilled jobs — but the number of prospective employees being trained for highly skilled, high-paying jobs such as these is barely a trickle.

Why the disconnect?

Part of the reason young people aren't choosing to explore manufacturing as a career path is an outdated perception of the manufacturing workplace as "dark, dirty and dangerous," explained Scott as part of a panel discussion titled "Solving the Skills Gap in Manufacturing." By contrast, he added, most manufacturing shops in the 21st century are "lean, green and clean."

One of the panelists was Richard DuPont of Bridgeport's Housatonic Community College. HCC's Advanced Manufacturing Technology Program currently enrolls some 100 students training for well-paying manufacturing jobs. That may sound like a drop in the bucket, but it's up from the mere two dozen the program graduated annually just a few years ago.

But that's still far short of what Connecticut manufacturers require to remain competitive in a global economy. Part of the reason for the shortfall is the dearth of dedicated educational pathways like Housatonic's to manufacturing jobs. "Our young people don't need so much to be college-ready as career-ready," Scott said. Part of that equation, he added, was the inculcation of such "soft skills" as simply showing up for work on time.

Lack of capacity

"Our footprint is expanding," said DuPont, who noted that HCC's advanced manufacturing program boasts a 100-percent placement rate for its graduates. "But we lack capacity" to enroll more students due to a federal and state funding gap, DuPont added.

He said that much of the manufacturing workforce of the future would come from urban areas, which is why training programs such as HCC's and manufacturing-technology programs at Gateway Community College in New Haven and other Connecticut community colleges are key to future competitiveness by state manufacturers.

And although major manufacturing plants in cities such as New Haven and Bridgeport were shuttered decades ago, "That's where the [potential] workers are," DuPont said.

Said panelist Salvatore Menzo, superintendent of the Wallingford Public Schools District, "We need to educate students [with proper education] that they can have a 40-year career in manufacturing and earn a middle-class salary."

Reach Michael C. Bingham at

Free E-Newsletter

Sign up now for our New Haven Biz
e-newsletter! Click Here

Subscribe to print for free

Premier issue coming in October. Click here to subscribe

Copyright 2018 New England Business Media