February 26, 2019

Confronting the workforce crisis

PHOTO | New Haven Biz
PHOTO | New Haven Biz
WorkPlace CEO Carbone (left) and GVCC President Purcell Tuesday morning in Shelton.

The shortage of skilled, work-ready employees has reached crisis proportions in Connecticut. And companies are coping with the crisis with new and creative approaches to recruiting, training and retaining the workforce they need to be competitive in a global marketplace.

That was the conclusion of a Tuesday morning panel discussion at the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce (GVCC) in Shelton. The session was moderated by Joe Carbone, president and CEO of the WorkPlace Inc. in Bridgeport, which provides workforce training and development to both workers and client companies throughout southwestern Connecticut.

"The workforce shortage in Connecticut has reached crisis levels," said Carbone, described as an "innovator and big thinker" by GVCC President Bill Purcell in introducing him to the group of about 20 executives and HR managers from companies large and small throughout the Valley.

What Connecticut companies are most desperate for, Carbone said, is not just bodies, but also "critical thinkers" with the smarts and experience to work collaboratively, problem-solve and navigate an ever-shifting commercial landscape. "I'm here to hear from you and to ask for your advice."

Worker referrals

Nicole Russo of Microboard Processing Inc. said her Seymour electronics manufacturing company had introduced a $750 referral fee for existing MPI employees who refer a new hire to the firm. "That has worked really well for us," she said.

However, finding new candidates to train for advanced manufacturing positions is only half the battle, Russo said. The long-term challenge is keeping them.

"What we're struggling with is bringing [new workers] in at $13 or $15 an hour for training — and then they can't afford to live here" in high-cost Connecticut, she said.

Heather Szor, HR manager of BTX Global Logistics, said her Shelton based transportation and logistics provider was actively seeking "young talent," and to find new workers was actively recruiting at area colleges including Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart.

Carbone added that Connecticut "has a poor record in retaining our children when they graduate from college."

"That's because they can't afford to live here," Szor responded.

Paul Mayer, president of the Schegg Group, a Shelton career-management consulting firm, emphasized a demographic group underrepresented and underutilized by Connecticut companies: older workers.

Many employers are biased against such workers, expressed in such code language as "We're looking for someone with more runway ahead of them," he said. "A lot of HR people don't even return their phone calls," he added.

But in addition to having the "talents, abilities and skills" that many companies say they want and need, such workers also have a work ethic sometimes found wanting in Millennial workers, including reliability and dependability, he said. Older workers are far less likely to "job-hop" than their younger counterparts, Mayer said.

Workplace amenities

Ramon Peralta, founder and creative director of Peralta Design, said his Shelton-based branding and web-development firm employed mostly workers aged 25 to 35, he said.

To keep the workers the company has, Peralta introduced such workplace amenities as a game arcade and even a putting green, he added.

"People don't want to work for someone," said Peralta of young people entering the workforce for the first time. "They want to work for some thing."

Contact Michael C. Bingham at mbingham@newhavenbiz.com

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