Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith told the legislature’s newly formed bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus on Monday that they need to make manufacturing more appealing to young people if they want manufacturers to thrive in the state.
Get rid of the “greasy” stigma attached to manufacturing and show younger people how times have changed, Smith told the caucus Monday.
As she waved her Blackberry in the air, she told the caucus that manufacturing is now focused on technology, but the young people don’t necessarily associate technology with manufacturing.
“Partly because we did lose a lot of manufacturing jobs and partly because people still have in their heads the idea of the greasy floor manufacturing organization, kids have not chosen to go into this field,” Smith said.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the state. Parents and counselors are ill-informed about manufacturing and often stray from advising kids to pursue careers in manufacturing industries, Smith said.
That’s something she wants to change. Her plan is simple and includes creating a positive image of manufacturing careers among Connecticut youth to increase the number of well-prepared workers.
Smith, who spoke to the new caucus on the first day of Manufacturing Month, said it is important that we change the public perception of what it is to build things.
Manufacturing Month’s events are intended to help young people and their parents, teachers, and guidance counselors to understand that the field offers good careers, Smith said
Changing people’s ideas and recruiting young workers is important because Connecticut’s workforce is aging.
“If you look at today, 25 to sometimes as much as 50 percent of [CT’s manufacturing] workforce is in retirement in the next 10 to 15 years,” Smith said. “That means we need a group of young people coming through the ranks, taking up jobs, and ready to go right behind them.”
“It is extremely important that we build a future,” she added.
To do this, Smith and her team are partnering with Connecticut. Dream it. Do it. to develop school curriculums that are up to date with the demands of the state’s manufacturing sector.
“Connecticut. Dream It Do It.” was launched in December 2010 by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) as one of 22 initiatives in 20 states focused on creating a positive awareness of rewarding careers in manufacturing.
The team also is training incumbent workers for higher level positions and leveraging employee funding from the Subsidized Training and Employment Program, better known as the “STEP-UP” program.
The program pays half of an employee’s salary for the first six months while they’re going through training so that businesses are more apt to hire them once the subsidy ends.
Chris DiPentima, president of Pegasus Manufacturing, shared his personal experience with the program.
“Within the last 30 days, we hired four unemployed people through the STEP-UP program,” DiPentima said. “Two of those employees we would never have hired. They did not have the experience that we needed, but the funds were out there to allow us to take a chance on that.”
DiPentima said that one of the four employees he hired failed the certification test. He did had neither time nor money to invest in training the underskilled employee, but the STEP-UP program allowed him to invest in that employee because it provided a monetary safety net while the employee was brought up to speed.
The STEP-UP program was part of the state’s 2011 jobs bill.
Other goals in Smith’s plan include creating a sustainable, business-friendly environment for advanced manufacturers, improving connectivity among manufacturers and companies in relevant fields — which will lead to new ideas and partnerships for new commercial opportunities — and enhancing the technologies of Connecticut manufacturers.
In Connecticut, manufacturing accounts for almost $25 billion in total output and close to 12 percent of the total gross state product, according to the Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. website.
Connecticut has more than 4,800 manufacturers that employ nearly 170,000 workers or nearly 11 percent of the state’s workforce. Manufacturers pay $13.3 billion in wages and salaries, with workers averaging $87,000 in annual compensation, according to the same source.
But the news isn’t always positive, which is why Smith is developing a plan.
In July, the 2013 Connecticut Manufacturers Register reported that Connecticut lost 1,522 manufacturing jobs in the past year.