Expanding Workforce Training Efforts in Connecticut – NBC Connecticut

By some estimates, 100,000 jobs are currently open in Connecticut and we don’t have the trained workforce to fill them properly.

This is not a new problem for the state, but a new solution may be in the works at the national level.

NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck spoke with Congressman Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) who is the chairman of the House Select Committee of Economic Disparity and Fairness and Growth.

mike hydeck: So you recently took part in a round table bringing together both trade union leaders and professional organisations. What came out of this session when it comes to trying to solve this problem?

Jim Himes: Yeah, and I’m glad you asked. Because, as you pointed out, this is a really critical issue for the state of Connecticut and for the whole country where there are millions of jobs there with a vacuum. That is to say, there are not enough people who have the training, the specialized skills, the technical skills, but also the general skills to fill these jobs. And this, of course, is just a disaster both for the economy and for people. But yeah, the roundtable we did was about how we can migrate to a system where, first of all, hiring is smarter, right? For too long the question has been – do you have a four-year college degree? If you have this BA, and by the way, maybe I don’t care what’s in it, you know, we’re looking at you, we’re trying to find ways to migrate to, instead of a system credential-based hiring process and set standards, competency-based hiring protocol, if you will. And then the other side of the coin, of course, is exactly what you were asking, which is how can we better train both young people coming out of school and obviously that’s enormous for them to acquire the skills that will enable them to prosper. But sometimes it’s not so much the young people who, you know, whose industries changed, or, you know, a factory that they worked in closed down. And there are a lot of answers to that question, aren’t there? There are the unions, which offer wonderful apprenticeship programs. There is more thinking around our community colleges. And then there is the private sector, which has a real interest in training its employees on an ongoing basis.

mike hydeck: So we have here in Connecticut and have had the manufacturing pipeline for a while that helps students learn manufacturing skills, but at this point really covers the southeast part of the state, deals with electric boats of the world. Will there be a greater push to train more workers in more disciplines?

Jim Himes: There are a lot of really interesting ideas and programs. So here in Fairfield County, of course, at Housatonic Community College, we have the advanced manufacturing program, which is just great because it takes high school kids and it teaches them in high school, you know, when some of us weren’t being terribly responsible for gathering the skills to be successful at that time it teaches them how to use the very advanced manufacturing equipment you talk about highly computerized tools and stuff like that of things, which will allow them to get jobs at places like Electric Bateau or at Sikorsky or other manufacturing companies. You know, so we have a program here, it’s a national program called P-TECH. And that’s a really interesting thing. P-TECH will take the kids, and it’s sponsored by IBM, to Armonk, New York, he’ll take the kids to high school, and he’ll give them internships, he’ll give them math and science training, which is important to succeed in a place like IBM. And it will work with them to ensure that when they graduate, not only will they have a high school diploma, but they will be well on their way to earning an associate degree at a local community college. So that’s the kind of innovative model that we really need to focus on and fund across the country.

mike hydeck: In the process, what about the possibility of paid internships? Because some of these children are helping their families put bread on the table. Some of them may be new parents, so they have to have child care while they try to get by. Paid internships and training at the same time, could that be part of the message?

Jim Himes: It has to be, it really has to be, you know, one of the challenges that we face is that in our community colleges here, we have Norwalk Community College, we have Housatonic Community College, they have very low dropout rates graduation, lower than they should be. I should say, you know, sometimes less than 50% graduation rate. And the reason is largely financial pressure. Right? There are a lot of children or young people who cannot afford to go to school and give up work because they have to take care of the children. So, you know, I’m going to point out that on this topic, I think in the last two years we’ve made real progress, including in my office. You know, in the old days, if you wanted to intern in a government office, it was probably only really open to you if your parents had enough money to support you when you were doing that. More and more people are migrating to paid internships, recognizing that you don’t want to set up a program that, you know, gives more and more resources, more experience, more training, to the more fortunate in our society. You also want to allow children who are ambitious, but who don’t have this type of financial support at home, to take these courses.

mike hydeck: So we need 1,000 welders right now in Connecticut, we need crews to rebuild our infrastructure. We know that nationally we spend money on that. Is there anything we can do, not just an overview, but now where the rubber meets the road in the name of legislation. How far from the road are you on that? Or is this just the beginning of the round table?

Jim Himes: You know, you asked the question very clearly. So let me offer you some thoughts on what we can actually do or should do now. First, again, we need to rebalance our government support for education. I am now talking about student loans. I’m talking about things like the Pell Grants, which are grants given to low-income people. These things have always been targeted at four-year college, which sounds good to some people, but we need to rebalance that help. So that might also help someone looking to get a technical certification, someone looking to get a two-year associate’s degree, or maybe some kind of training program that will give them the skills to occupy position, this rebalancing needs to happen. The other thing, this will come out of left field for you, but it’s really important, you know, we have to get our act together on immigration. Immigration has always been one of the great strengths of our economy. If you look at the most innovative companies in the United States today, they are often founded or run by immigrants. And it crosses the entire spectrum of skill levels. And at a time when our economy would really benefit from having more talent. We should and by us, I mean the United States Congress, should take seriously a real package of immigration reforms that would boost our economy.

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