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September 23, 2019 MANUFACTURING

A CSCU plan to boost manufacturing placement has grown into a statewide movement

[Photo | courtesy CSCU] CSCU imagined and implemented a strategy to bring diverse partners together to create a strategic workforce development plan for advanced manufacturing.
[Photo | courtesy CSCU] CSCU’s TEAM Works training program allows students to learn online and then gain hands-on experience in advanced manufacturing lab spaces.
This story was published in Hartford Business Journal's "Doing Business in Connecticut 2019" publication, which showcases the state's many economic development opportunities, and the attributes that make Connecticut a special place to work, live and play. Click here to learn more
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In February, Mark Ojakian, president of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU), announced an exciting new initiative – the “TEAM Works” advanced manufacturing strategic plan, born of the need to train 35,000 students to fill jobs in the sector over the next 20 years.

Ojakian said while CSCU’s 17 post-secondary facilities schools represent the largest higher education network in Connecticut, its community college-based advanced manufacturing technology centers don’t have the capacity to produce the volume of highly skilled graduates that will be required by the burgeoning high-tech manufacturing industry. 

The TEAM Works plan calls for the close collaboration of “stakeholders across education, government, and industry, including CSCU’s colleges and universities, Connecticut’s comprehensive and technical high schools, Goodwin and other private colleges, the state’s regional workforce development boards, and advanced manufacturers and business organizations, among others.” Multiple partners have already signed on, and the momentum is growing.

The road to this announcement was an interesting one. In 2016, CSCU landed a $15 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant was intended to boost students’ interest in manufacturing careers – and, more importantly, prompt them to enroll in educational programs that would lead to well-paying jobs in an industry that was facing an acute shortage of qualified workers.

The state and CSCU had already been working to address that shortage, by implementing advanced manufacturing technology centers and training programs at first one, then four, community colleges – Asnuntuck, Housatonic, Naugatuck Valley and Quinebaug Valley. The grant allowed the state to add three more, at Manchester, Middlesex and Three Rivers. The addition of Farmington’s Tunxis College in 2017 made it eight.

“The neat thing about the U.S. DOL grant is that it required us to spend a percentage of that money on marketing to attract students,” said Mike Kozlowski, executive director of advanced manufacturing for CSCU.

CSCU’s “Make It Here” marketing campaign was a success, doubling enrollment in 10-month certificate programs from 244 students to 500 in a single year. But when federal funds for marketing ran out, Kozlowski realized that the community college system had a problem.

Not only was there inadequate money to continue a major media-based campaign to keep the students coming, but the advanced manufacturing centers were operating in isolation and lacked a coordinated approach to reach overall training and job targets.

Kozlowski – then CCSU’s chief marketing officer and director of strategic initiatives – mentioned to Chief of Staff Alice Pritchard that CSCU should develop a strategic plan. “Alice said, ‘OK, do it.’ ”

When the plan was completed, Pritchard sent it to Ojakian, who approved it in January of this year. Then Kozlowski got unexpected instructions: He was told to implement it, and take everything else off his plate.

“I viewed that as a pretty interesting challenge,” he said.

Actually, the challenge was three-fold: find a place to hold classes, develop a curriculum, and effectively promote it to students.

With a new state government in office and talk at the highest political levels about putting Connecticut on “a debt diet,” Kozlowski knew that the chances of securing funding for new training facilities was remote, at best. “Even with eight institutions, I knew we would probably run out of room [for students] somewhere around 2024. It was my thought that we needed to add other education providers.”

He reached out to colleges and universities that don’t currently offer certificates in manufacturing to see if they wanted to team up to increase training capacity. “This is a challenge for the entire state of Connecticut. We were aware that we [CSCU] couldn’t do this alone.”

He also realized that even with these new partners, it wouldn’t be enough. An online component was an obvious solution – one with the added benefit of making access to courses easier for students with young families or transportation issues.

Because online courses don’t allow for hands-on training where students can get experience using equipment and applying their learning to real-life manufacturing situations, CSCU proposed an agreement in principle with CTECS, a statewide system of 17 diploma-granting technical high schools.

“Based on this agreement, in the late afternoons and evenings, we will be able to use their facilities for the lab component. We’re also working with our manufacturing partners to perhaps provide for those classes where needed. If manufacturing is doing a lot of hiring and wants to have a lab component, we’ll arrange for a manufacturing house call. That’s really the nub of the plan.”

Finally, Kozlowski knew he needed to identify additional funds for marketing for the new program to students. In April, he began to bring together manufacturing leaders from around the state. At the very first meeting, “there was a conceptual agreement to create a fund to underwrite the cost of marketing, and perhaps some other things as well.”

Meetings were also scheduled with manufacturing organizations like the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) to gain additional support and ideas on how best to collaborate on their shared mission – to grow Connecticut’s manufacturing workforce as quickly and effectively as possible.

Today, it’s full steam ahead and the initiative is growing in strength and scope by the day.

Kozlowski still finds it amusing how the program came about, explaining that he was an English major in college, later earning an MBA through night school and a law degree from UConn.

“I didn’t have any experience in engineering or manufacturing prior to 2016. Why they gave me the task of writing a manufacturing strategy is curious, and why they told me I had to implement it is even more curious,” he said wryly.

Still, things are coming together quickly. Is he optimistic about the outcome? “Emphatically, yes. The first reason is the way the other providers, including Goodwin College and the manufacturers, have rallied around the strategic plan. It was super presumptuous of me to float a plan among 4,100 manufacturers,” he said.

“The second reason I’m optimistic is that we’ve got manufacturers saying, ‘One way or the other, we have to find a way to fund this.’ If the effort succeeds, then it means that the large firms who have done a really, really good job over the past couple years to get new contracts – not only in the defense industry but in aviation and biomedical fields – can continue to grow at a pace we haven’t seen in decades.”

He added, “Small firms are then going to have a proportionate opportunity to grow. And each of those firms is going to hire more people. Each of the people hired is going to invest money in the community – buy things like cars and refrigerators and take their families out to dinner more often, perhaps. Once that begins to happen, then the economy benefits, and it benefits substantially.”

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