EAST HARTFORD, CT — There are about 13,600 job openings in Connecticut manufacturing right now, and even though the state has beefed up its community college training programs and increased its tax credits, there’s no way they will all be filled.
Connecticut is home to more than 4,000 manufacturers who employ 159,000 employees. That means that nearly one of every 10 Connecticut workers is employed in the manufacturing sector, but the demand for those skills continues to accelerate as many in the workforce are headed for retirement.
“Manufacturing is still kind of a dirty word, and we’re working hard to overcome that,” Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith has said.
Cliff Thermer, assistant vice president of strategy and business development for Goodwin College, said the average student enrolled in their manufacturing program is 31 years old and enrolled part-time at school, while also holding down a job.
He said they’ve worked hard with employers to make sure the students will be ready for employment once they finish the program at the private, nonprofit Goodwin College campus.
But even if every community college and technical high school student in Connecticut found a job after they graduated, “we can’t fill the need,” Thermer said.
He said they also offer retraining for employees at manufacturing companies in the area. And if the employees can’t get to them, they send out a fully-equipped trailer so companies can make sure their employees have the certifications they need.
At the same time, Thermer said part his job is training its students for jobs that don’t exist yet. He said they’re graduating really well-prepared entry level employees, and the jobs these employees might hold in 10 years might not currently exist.
Michael Polo of ACMT Manufacturing in Manchester said Goodwin College has helped them provide re-training and certification to their employees.
The state has also stepped up with incentives for manufacturers like ACMT.
Polo’s company received incentives from the state to add 70 jobs under the state’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund.
ACMT is an aerospace components manufacturing company.
“ACMT’s growth in recent years is tied directly to the support we have received from the State of Connecticut and the Manufacturing Innovation Fund,” Polo said. “The voucher and incumbent worker training programs have helped us purchase and develop cutting-edge equipment and provide our workers with the best training out there.”
According to a Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey of the manufacturing industry, for the companies looking to hire by the end of 2018, the job categories most likely to be filled include entry-level production workers (identified by respondents as one of the easiest jobs to fill), warehousing and distribution staff, machinists, CNC machinists, mechanical/manufacturing technicians, electrical/electronic technicians, quality control personnel, and engineers.
The toughest position to fill is tool and die maker (with 63 percent of respondents rating it a five on a scale of one to five, from least to most difficult to fill). CNC programmers were second (52 percent), followed by engineers (38 percent), CNC machinists (34 percent), machinists (31 percent), and CAD/AM technicians and electrical/electronic technicians (both 27 percent).
While it’s hard to find trained workers, it might also be hard in the future to find the state funding to help train them as the state looks to tighten its belt.
“Making investments — it’s hard when you are making them, but the payoff is massive, and that’s what we are seeing,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said during a press conference at ACMT in January.
Malloy, who is in charge of the state Bond Commission agenda, is not seeking re-election.
Since it was first created in 2014, the Manufacturing Innovation Fund has assisted nearly 900 companies with $31 million.
The fund is administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development with the advice and counsel of an 11-member advisory board.
The board has used some of the funding to market the fund and its programming. It has created a website and paid for a social media campaign in June 2017 to raise awareness of the industry, according to the recently released annual report.