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February 6, 2023

New ad campaigns, college programs aim to bolster CT’s manufacturing workforce

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute college student Dyami Watson is interning at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in East Hartford. He’s shown above working in CCAT’s Advanced Design Automation Lab. The state has launched a new marketing campaign to recruit more young people like Watson into manufacturing.

As industries continue to search for workers to fill open positions, the state recently launched a new marketing campaign it hopes will encourage more people to consider fields such as manufacturing.

The ad blitz is being paired with new programming and internship opportunities for college students that aim to further encourage young people to become engineers or manufacturing specialists.

Paul Lavoie

“We don’t have a workforce development problem, we have a workforce growth problem,” said Paul Lavoie, Connecticut’s chief manufacturing officer. “We have these great advanced manufacturing facilities and community college centers — great ways to get people through them. We just need more people.”

Gov. Ned Lamont announced in December the launch of the statewide “YOU” marketing campaign designed to recruit populations most underrepresented in the workforce, including Black and indigenous people of color, those with disabilities, people reentering society after incarceration, veterans, immigrants and women.

The new effort will collaborate with the statewide “Hearts and Minds” manufacturing marketing campaign to utilize television, radio, social media, billboards and other advertising methods to highlight open job opportunities in Connecticut.

New Haven-based Odonnell Co. is handling both marketing campaigns for the state, and digital billboards can already be found scattered across Connecticut highways.

“The message is all about showcasing the really cool things we make in Connecticut, and the really cool people who make them,” Lavoie said.

Illustrating what a career in manufacturing can look like through marketing, internships and college programs is key to getting a new generation of talent employed, experts said.

Jacquelynn Garofano

“The workforce is changing, the academic space is changing. Young people can have a successful career and still grow through that career,” said Jackie Garofano, chief technology officer at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT). “So it’s about demystifying not only manufacturing as a career option, but how you then grow and develop through that.”

Finding workers

Lavoie said the Hearts and Minds campaign ads direct people to, a website set up to help future workers find job postings or career training opportunities in the state’s community college system.

From there, the website branches off to the CareerConneCT portal, an educational hub. CareerConneCT is the state’s $70-million workforce program that offers tuition-free job training, case management, supportive services and employment assistance.

“If they’re ready for a career, they can go right to the community colleges and talk about a career in manufacturing, and if they say I’m not sure what I want to do, they go to the CareerConnect portal,” Lavoie said.

And most industries, not just manufacturers, need more people. According to the state’s jobs report from December 2022, there are 102,000 job openings in Connecticut. The state’s manufacturing sector saw 800 new jobs filled that month, but experts still say there are thousands of open positions in the industry.

OKAY Industries President and CEO Jason Howey said his company has between 15 to 20 open positions, but finding skilled workers has been a challenge.

OKAY Industries President and CEO Jason Howey said his company has between 15 to 20 open positions, but finding skilled workers has been a challenge.

The New Britain-based medical device components manufacturer said the marketing campaign is welcomed in the industry. He emphasized the importance of letting young people know they don’t need to get a four-year college degree to be successful.

“I think the campaign will be very, very helpful because I think a lot of people still don’t know what’s out there and how cool things are in manufacturing,” Howey said.

Lavoie said he’ll be meeting with the Odonnell Co. over the next few weeks to establish some metrics for how they’ll track the marketing campaign’s effectiveness.

College recruitment

Lavoie said the state’s universities and community colleges also have crucial roles to play in developing the manufacturing workforce.

Community colleges in particular have beefed up their manufacturing training programs, offering everything from 12-week certificates to two-year degrees.

Laura McCarthy, director of the Academic Success Center at Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC), said manufacturing programming has become so popular at the school that it often has a student waitlist.

Laura McCarthy

McCarthy also works with the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board, an organization that focuses on developing a skilled workforce to support businesses in northwest Connecticut.

“Litchfield County has 350 manufacturers, and we have well over 1,000 job openings, a lot of them in the manufacturing sector,” McCarthy said. “But it’s hard for people to come across them. It’s easy to see that McDonald’s is hiring, but it’s hard to know that (DRT Power Systems) is also hiring.”

McCarthy said NCCC offers for-credit courses that can stack toward an associate degree in addition to certification programs. Students span in age from a typical college-age person to older adults wanting to gain more training for their careers, or find a new manufacturing career altogether.

Manufacturing courses at NCCC include blueprint reading, introduction to CNC and other specialized topics. She said the school recently had to hire another instructor because of the demand for programming.

“It’s a great opportunity for not just the career changers, but for people to access a college education who didn’t think that college education was for them and they went directly to the workforce,” McCarthy said.

CCAT is helping with recruitment efforts too. The organization in January launched its engineering internship program that aims to further establish a student-to-employer manufacturing pipeline.

Through the program, manufacturing and technology companies can submit their summer internship positions to be promoted online, and college students can then submit their resumes with participating companies and/or apply directly for paid internships.

The program is open to all small and medium-size manufacturers and college students in the state. Companies with fewer than 300 employees that hire engineering interns can apply for a matching wage subsidy grant and receive up to $7,000 for two qualified interns, CCAT said.

The new program, which ran on a pilot basis in 2022, is underwritten by the state Department of Economic and Community Development’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund.

Garofano said almost 20 companies participated in the program last year but CCAT’s hoping to expand it in 2023. Burke Aerospace in Farmington, Microboard in Seymour, and PTA Plastics in Oxford all participated last year, to name a few of the companies.

Garofano said she hopes the website can be a one-stop-shop for companies looking for interns and students looking to get hands-on experience.

“We have companies that participated last year, we have new companies coming into the fold, so we just wanted to have a centralized place that is now our website,” Garofano said.

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