The CEO of a New York workforce development nonprofit attributed the dramatic drop in jobs available to young people to advances in technology at a forum on youth employment Tuesday.

John Twomey, CEO of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals Inc., said in 1989 about six out of 10 teenagers were working. Last year only three of every 10 were working.

“Seven out of 10 teenagers not being able to work is kind of a tragedy in terms of wasted human capital,” he told the group gathered at the Legislative Office Building.

The trend is problematic. Young people who hold jobs or internships have been shown to be less likely to drop out of school and more successful as adults.

Twomey said in many cases jobs that were once held by high school students and graduates are now automated. He said the issue became clear to him a few years ago when on a trip he completed almost all the necessary transactions without dealing with an actual person.

He said he printed his boarding pass, worked with an automated kiosk to rent a car and used an EZ Pass to get through toll booths on the highway. When he reached the hotel he interacted with a kiosk to choose his room and obtain a key card. Later kiosks helped him print a presentation and change the destination of his train ticket for the trip home.

“These are millions and millions of jobs. It’s got great effects here in Connecticut and across the whole country,” he said. “… This is all technology replacing routine jobs.”

Twomey said the decline in low-skill jobs has made it increasingly difficult for someone with high school diploma or less to compete in the workforce. He said the issue highlights the need to improve the rate at which students who enroll in college graduate.

In the 1970s, the United States was ranked first among developing and emerging nations in terms of post secondary education completion rates, he said. Now, among 25 to 34 year olds, the U.S. has now fallen to 15th, he said. Twomey said it’s an issue that does not get enough media attention.

“If UConn was 15th out of 30 schools in their conference it would be in the front page of the paper every day and after a year Jim Calhoun would be fired,” he said. “I think it’s true but we don’t see it so we don’t do anything.”

Tom Phillips, president and CEO of the Capital Workforce Partners, said increased funding to programs like the Connecticut Summer Youth Employment Program would help keep young people working. Funding for the program was high in 2009 and 2010 due in part to money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, he said. The program found summer jobs for 5,982 and 7,397 youths in those years respectively, he said.

Last year funding decreased and the program could only serve 4,308 young people, he said. Almost 6,000 applied for the program and were turned away, he said.

“That’s nearly 60 percent of the young people in the state of Connecticut who were ready and willing, prepared to work and were unable to do so because we did not have the resources available,” he said.

Phillips said the state should reach out to businesses who would also benefit from more youths being in the program. Young people will be their workforce in the future, he said. 

“We need subsidized jobs for youth and young adults. Government funded programs really do make a difference,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said it’s important that young people are trained for the jobs that will be created in the future. He said technical high schools and community colleges will be part of that training.

“We need to be poised for the growth in jobs that hopefully will come, that we can see coming in Connecticut, but we also need to begin earlier,” he said.

Trisana Spence, a 16 year-old student at the Culinary Arts Academy, said many people her age get caught up in the streets because they do not have jobs and are not challenged. She said she has seen young people killed because they weren’t working and decided to steal money instead.

“That is why having a job is important. It gives us a chance to feel independent and feel a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “… It hurts me to know that because of the lack of jobs young men and women are dying before their time.”

Spence said she believed the crime rate would go down if there were more jobs available for young people. Jobs teach youths responsibility and respect for authority, she said.

Spence, who wants to eventually become a lawyer, said she hopes finding a job will be the first step on a career path that will allow her to make enough money to look after her mother someday.

“I just watched my mother sacrifice so much to take care of me and my little brother and I just want to take care of her for a change,” she said.