Many of the Connecticut manufacturers surveyed by the offices of U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said they would be looking to add jobs to their operations in the coming years, but reported concerns about finding qualified workers.
The Democratic lawmakers announced the results of the survey at a state Capitol press conference Monday where they said the findings were good news on a day when the president was addressing the nation over Standard and Poor’s decision to downgrade the country’s credit rating.
The manufacturing industry has been hit hard over the past decade. More than 5 million jobs have been lost nationwide. The number of people working in the industry in Connecticut has dropped from 171,000 in 2000 to 166,000 in 2010, Murphy said.
Still, Connecticut’s manufacturers surveyed seemed optimistic about the future. Murphy said it’s a nationwide phenomenon.
“Since December of 2010 this country has added almost 300,000 new jobs in manufacturing. That reverses a decade long decline,” he said. “We are on the brink of a re-industrialization of this nation and Connecticut has to make sure that it is part of that manufacturing re-birth.”
While the opportunity for growth exists, businesses have reported difficulty finding adequately trained workers to fill the new positions. Of the 151 businesses surveyed, 89 percent said they had plans to either hire new workers or keep their employment level steady. But 87 percent said they were having trouble locating qualified people.
Murphy said the survey provides a new impetus to fight cuts in federal funding to education and training programs.
“When you hear that almost 90 percent of manufacturers in the state want to expand and that almost 90 percent of manufacturers are having trouble finding trained workers it should be a caution to anyone in Washington who is talking about cutting funding for education or job training,” he said.
The federal cuts that could come down to the state would result in a reduction of slots in technical and community colleges and job training programs, he said. From an economic standpoint the cuts would be foolhardy, Murphy said.
“It could have a devastating impact on Connecticut’s ability to participate in this manufacturing renaissance,” he said.
Both lawmakers said the results of the survey will provide them with “ammunition” when it comes time to debate spending cuts to higher education.
Blumenthal called the survey a game-changer because it provides objective evidence that companies need a better trained workforce.
“We’ve been hearing that but to have it reinforced so overwhelmingly by these numbers is really groundbreaking,” he said.
The survey’s respondents offered ideas for improving the qualifications of the state workforce including offering grants for manufacturing internships, educating high school students about the high demand for jobs in the industry, and maintaining support for the state’s vocational schools.
“What we need to do is remind our community colleges and vocational and technical schools to provide that kind of customized training so it is aimed at the needs for specific workers,” Blumenthal said.
State Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, agreed work may need to be done to improve the education level of the work force.
“If our state is failing to produce workers who are qualified to take available positions, that should be cause for us all to focus on how to do better in terms of workforce development,” he said, adding he has heard similar complaints from manufacturers in his district.
Roraback didn’t criticize Murphy and Blumenthal’s plan to use the survey as ammunition in a federal spending cut debate, saying that education is the last place investment should be reduced and the survey will likely strengthen their argument. But he did question the usefulness of the survey which he noted did not include businesses that haven’t survived in the state’s struggling economy.
“I don’t think any survey can be an accurate picture of what’s happening here in Connecticut if it doesn’t include all the manufacturers who have chosen to close up shop and move elsewhere,” he said. “We should be conducting an exit interview or a closure interview to put a finger on those closures that result in so many jobs lost.”
Not all manufacturers have reported difficulty finding trained workers. John Bogart, president of Integro, a power distribution product manufacturer in New Britain, said recruiting new talent hasn’t been a problem.
Bogart said his company has added 16 jobs over the last few years and hasn’t had trouble filling them. Many of the jobs have been local hires to their direct labor workforce and the company also has a good relationship with Central Connecticut State University where they have found a lot of new talent, he said. One reason Integro has had an easier time finding new staff could be their training policies.
“I’m a firm believer in hiring young talent and training them in our culture. Some hires we go for experience but most of the time we like to hire young talent right out of school and train them in our culture,” he said.
The manufacturer currently employs 41 people and Bogart said he’s planning on adding between two and five each year. However, that could increase if a recently filed patent for a product in the electric vehicle industry is approved. He said the patent could redefine the company, making it 10 to 20 times the size it is now.