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January 6, 2014 Trend Lines: Economic Outlook

Who is going fix our teeth and planes, prep our taxes and brains in 2016?

Thomas Phillips
High school youths in the 2013 Youth Jobs+ initiative who worked at Aetna last summer.

There is a demographic “canyon” coming our way when it comes to the workforce in Connecticut. Many Baby Boomers are set to retire in the next few years, and for some of your businesses that can be a significant percentage of your workforce and the knowledge base that forms the core of your organization's operations and competitiveness. For some organizations, as much as 40 percent of their workforce might retire in the next decade.

Here are some of the occupations with the oldest people in north central Connecticut, according to Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI):

• Funeral Attendants – 81 percent are older than 45, and 43 percent older than 65;

• Tool and Die Makers - 77 percent are older than 45, 42 percent are older than 55, and 9 percent over 65;

• Farmers / Agriculture – 75 percent older than 45, and 56 percent are older than 55;

• Aerospace Engineers – 70 percent older than 45, and 33 percent older than 55;

• Tax Preparers – 68 percent older than 45, and 25 percent older than 65;

• Avionics Technicians – 67 percent older than 45, and 33 percent older than 55;

• Dentists – 61 percent are older than 45, 39 percent are older than 55, and 13 percent are over 65.

And the next generation isn't going to help much. According to demographer and futurist, Ken Gronbach, even if you had enough people with the “ready for prime time” skills lined up at the door, there simply aren't enough people to take the place of the huge generation that is departing. Furthermore, demographic trends show the incoming pool of talent to replace these retiring workers are younger, less educated, and are general minority and special populations.

Focus on construction, energy jobs

Over $6 billion in construction projects are in process or slated to begin in the next year in north central Connecticut. The 20,505 construction jobs that existed in the region in 2012, according to EMSI, are expected to grow to 21,642 in 2016 and that doesn't include hundreds of more potential jobs if the state is successful in a major oil to gas conversion effort. Gov. Malloy's energy plan includes an initiative to convert present energy fuel supplies to natural gas, requiring construction workers to build new infrastructure for home natural gas conversion updates. In a December 2011 report issued by the Department of Economic and Community Development, it was estimated that 54,000 construction jobs could be created in the state over 10 years. Further job openings would occur on top of these numbers, as existing workers retire. There simply aren't enough “current workers” to fill this need, so the training and preparation needs to start now.

Further, Malloy's Waste Management and Materials Management Plan will require newly trained workers to carry out the jobs of converting and recycling disposable materials into valued commodities, as exiting businesses expand and new ones are created.

Healthcare workforce

Healthcare and social assistance jobs in our region are projected to grow by nearly 9 percent nationally by 2016, according to EMSI. That's a lot of new registered nurses, health information technicians, physical therapists, and physician and nursing assistants we'll need.

In our region alone, more than one in five registered nurses is already over 55 and may retire soon, yet in the next two years we need to find nearly 700 more. We also need to find another 186 trained nursing assistants, and 82 physical therapists. If we don't prepare and train today's workforce for these positions now, the Affordable Care Act, and all the chatter on its merits or faults is meaningless, as there simply will not be enough workers to provide the healthcare needed to an aging and increasingly insured population.

What are you doing to get ready for big changes in workforce needs?

Workforce training and getting more young people into your workforce today are imperatives to business performance in the next decade. Regarding training, there are many great incentives available to your business like the state's Step Up, Incumbent Worker Training or Business Express programs. These programs either provide wage incentives when hiring currently unemployed workers, or provide training and new skills to your existing workers at 50 percent of the cost.

Regarding the need to hire more young people now, versus later, Capital Workforce Partners can connect you to career-competency trained youth in the state's Youth Employment Program, or the Youth Jobs + initiative that will connect you to talented high school juniors and seniors.

According to an August 2013 report by Orlando Rodriguez and Edie Joseph of Connecticut Voices for Children, youth unemployment has dramatically increased in Connecticut over the last decade and is more than twice the rate of older workers.

In 2012, the unemployment rate for Connecticut's young workers (ages 16 to 24), at 17.1 percent, was more than double the unemployment rate for 25 to 54 year olds.

Connecticut's youth unemployment rate is higher than the U.S. average and has been on the rise over the last dozen years. This simply is not acceptable. We need to start getting these young workers trained for tomorrow's jobs today. ¦

Thomas Phillips is the president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners.

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