HARTFORD, CT — The U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology has just awarded a $1M grant to Hartford-based CONNSTEP to inventory, evaluate, and warehouse school initiatives that serve as talent pipelines into the field of advanced manufacturing. The project will be executed in partnership with K-12 education affiliate, ReadyCT; CBIA, the state’s largest business organization; and Polaris, the Rhode Island representative of the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).

The two-year effort will result in a compilation of information on education models that have been evaluated for efficacy and inclusivity and ultimately lead to development of a set of components and criteria that comprise effective career pathways programs. Final findings will be available on a web-based portal with education best practices for implementation and impact. 

“This project has tremendous potential for statewide, cross-sector impact,” said Bonnie Del Conte, president and CEO of CONNSTEP. “When manufacturers have a better understanding of what pathways exist and how to replicate those that are effective, the education-industry link can strengthen and grow in ways that benefit a range of stakeholders.”

The investment comes at a time when advanced manufacturing is resurgent across Connecticut. Manufacturing is responsible for 11% of Connecticut’s gross domestic product, and over 4,000 manufacturing companies in Connecticut produce a range of products and materials, from transportation equipment (aerospace, submarine, and automotive), chemicals, fabricated metals, computer and electronic products, to pharmaceuticals, medical products, and plastics. 

Connecticut manufacturers pay $12.6 billion in wages and currently employ more than 154,000 people, or about 10% of the state’s workforce, yet manufacturers are confronting a decade-long shortage of qualified workers, most significantly employees of prime working age. The Connecticut Department of Labor (CTDOL) projects that manufacturers will need to hire 10,000 workers to meet employment growth and far more to replace retiring workers over the next decade. CTDOL also estimates that over 35% of the manufacturing workforce – more than 58,000 workers – are Baby Boomers approaching retirement, an 11-point increase over the past decade.

Shannon Marimón, executive director of ReadyCT, noted that some Connecticut school districts are responding to the surge in workforce demand, but indicated more is needed.

“There are a handful of the 169 public school districts in the state offering exposure to manufacturing careers,” she said. “That’s a great start, but the truth is too few high school students are interested in and prepared for careers in manufacturing mostly because they aren’t exposed to them. Add in everything from parental disapproval to misconceptions that manufacturing jobs are dirty work to the recent push for universal college, and we’ve got a lot of barriers we need to push through to make sure students understand how exciting and interesting advancing manufacturing careers are, circa 2020.”

As the leading voice of the Connecticut business and industry community, Chris DiPentima, CBIA president and CEO, added that manufacturers’ primary workforce need is the recruitment and preparation of a substantial number of young, qualified workers.

“We’ve got emerging digital technologies and autonomous production systems disrupting traditional factory practices of assembly, packaging, distribution, so businesses now require a workforce of digital natives prepared to meet this changing environment,” he said. “Connecticut is part of this nationwide problem. Predictions of manufacturing job openings nationwide are upwards of 2.4 million. This project is long overdue and will help solve the dominant need of Connecticut’s manufacturers.” 

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About CONNSTEP: CONNSTEP, a CBIA affiliate, is Connecticut’s premier business consulting firm and is the Connecticut representative for the NIST MEP, a unique public-private partnership that provides solutions to U.S. manufacturers, fueling growth and advancing the manufacturing industry. For more information, please contact Matt Howe (mhowe@connstep.org; 860.513.3206). Learn more at connstep.org.

About ReadyCT: ReadyCT is a nonprofit CBIA affiliate focused on advancing academic excellence and career-connected learning for all public school students in Connecticut in collaboration with business, civic, and education leaders. Since 2011, ReadyCT has pursued its mission through policy advocacy as supported by programming. A paramount goal remains the creation of a mutually rewarding school-business network that affords a range of opportunities to students across the state in ways that help to build Connecticut’s talent pipeline. For more information, please contact Sheryl McNamee (sheryl.mcnamee@readyCT.org; 860.244.1109). Learn more at readyCT.org.

About CBIA: CBIA is Connecticut’s largest business organization, with thousands of member companies, small and large, representing a diverse range of industries from every part of the state. For more information, please contact Shannon King (shannon.king@cbia.com; 860.244.1929). Learn more at cbia.com.