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September 24, 2012

CT manufacturing showcases itself for future workers

Photos/Pablo Robles Paul Hoffman, above, president of Orange Research in Milford, hopes to use open house programs to show prospective workers that manufacturing is not dead. At the firm's Milford shop, Rich Valenti (middle) and William Sanders use computerized metal-cutting equipment.

To ensure its strength in Connecticut for the next generation, the manufacturing industry is holding a series of events during National Manufacturing Month in October to peak interest among the future workforce and policymakers.

“Manufacturing is not dead, it is different. It is alive and well,” said Paul Hoffman, president of Milford pressure gauge manufacturer Orange Research. “Manufacturing Month is trying to get the word out.”

The effort during the month will be lead by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which is administering the state's version of the national “Dream It! Do It!” initiative to bolster manufacturing as a professional choice for high school students.

“We have to make sure that talent pipeline is there,” said Pat Downs, CCAT director of workforce strategy and planning. “It really is a viable career path.”

The main component of the campaign in the Manufacturing Mania kick-off event Oct. 5-6 at the State Armory in Hartford. The two-day exhibit of manufacturers across the state is meant for students to come learn about the profession and obtain information from companies, community colleges, and vocational technical high schools. The first-day will be invitation-only for students, and the second day is open to the public.

“We are trying to make people aware of how important manufacturing is to the economy,” said Jerry Clupper, executive director at the New Haven Manufacturers Association. “We need to get people interested in manufacturing careers.”

The kick-off event is the start of a series of open houses throughout October that give the state's more than 4,500 manufacturers the chance to familiarize the public with the business. The calendar and locations of the open houses will be ready by the Oct. 5 event.

“It is an opportunity to let others know what advanced manufacturing really looks like,” Clupper said. “It is also for people in the companies to celebrate the fact that manufacturing is getting this recognition.”

Hoffman and NHMA are working to get more open houses in the southern half of the state, since the Connecticut trade organization Aerospace Component Manufacturers is lining them up in the Greater Hartford region.

With Orange Research and others, this is a chance to move people's mindsets out of the dark and dirty years of manufacturing and show more how clean advanced manufacturing comes together, Hoffman said.

“The idea is to get people who aren't familiar with manufacturing,” Hoffman said. “There is a lot of excitement and a lot of things that are going to happen to raise the awareness of manufacturing.”

The number of manufacturing jobs in Connecticut has dropped steadily from 300,000 in January 1990 to 167,000 in June 2012. Despite the job losses, manufacturers around the state have long-term openings that remain vacant because job candidates don't have the necessary skills to perform the work.

“As those openings are available, we want to have the people with the skills to do those jobs,” Downs said.

The key will not only be winning over high school students but also their parents, as they play a crucial role in a child's career decision-making and have a lot of the preconceived notions about dark and dirty manufacturing from previous generations, Downs said.

To entice this new workforce, Downs said Manufacturing Month will showcase the positive working conditions, the high salaries, and the benefits coming from a manufacturing career.

“It is going to be a mix of things that are going to be not only entertaining but educational,” Downs said.

At the end of Manufacturing Month, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association will host a policy forum on Oct. 30 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to discuss the future of manufacturing, pro-growth policies, and the upcoming Connecticut General Assembly legislative session. The CBIA event is less for people interested in manufacturing careers and more for manufacturing company owners, employees, and supporters.

“We will discuss what can be done to make sure manufacturing remains strong in Connecticut,” CBIA spokeswoman Ann Marie Raymond said. “It is meant to increase the visibility of manufacturing in Connecticut, so anybody can come.”

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