Manufacturers Must Adapt to Changing Workforce Landscape
State officials and business leaders discussed challenges and solutions to the changing manufacturing workforce landscape during a Feb. 21 event at Central Connecticut State University.
“Our workforce is the key to competitiveness in Connecticut, and that’s why we’ve got to address this issue,” CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said at FANUC America’s Aligning Skills Between Industry and Academia.
Connecticut chief manufacturing officer Paul Lavoie, Infinity Fuel Cell & Hydrogen director of business development Rick Mullins, OKAY Industries president Jason Howey, FANUC America account manager Joe Baldiga, and Rockwell Automation director of global academic engagement Michael Cook also took part in the discussion, led by CCSU associate vice president of public affairs Steven Minckler.
Minkler said the future of students is the future of the workforce.
“We’re really talking about their future, in addition to the future of our state, to the future of our industry, to the future of our educational institutions,” he said.
Embracing manufacturing’s digital transformation is critical for small and medium manufacturers.
“Industry 4.0 is a key to competitiveness, and we’re fortunate in Connecticut that we have an unbelievable ecosystem built around workforce development and i4.0,” DiPentima said.
Lavoie noted that the Manufacturing Innovation Fund’s Innovation Voucher Program provides manufacturers a $20,000 grant to adopt i4.0 technology.
“It’s all for manufacturers who need our help,” he said.
“They need our help to grow, and they need our help to innovate.”
Innovation can only happen with a strong workforce.
“We’ll get more funding from the MIF and we can put more towards i4.0 capital, but it’s not the equipment, it’s the engineering talent to be able to adopt equipment quicker and faster to relieve some of that pressure,” DiPentima said.
DiPentima said of the 100,000 job openings in Connecticut, 10,000 are engineers, with employers needing 20 years worth of engineers over the next five years to meet demand.
“We’ve got incredible work infrastructure, we’ve got incredible businesses working with our schools, we just need to get more bodies through the pipeline we’ve created,” he said.
Lavoie added that partnerships between companies and schools help fill workforce gaps.
“We’ve been doing these industry-educator partnerships for a long time, we’re just getting more formal and getting more energy behind it,” he said.
Mullins said Infinity Fuel Cell & Hydrogen is adapting to workforce demands that the pandemic exacerbated.
He said his team implemented programs such as four-day work weeks, hybrid working, and unlimited paid time off.
“There’s a formula here that has to be put together here for your business, and has to be executed well,” he said.
Part of that formula is attracting and retaining more students in Connecticut.
In CBIA’s 2022 Survey of Connecticut Businesses, 84% of business leaders said they experienced difficulty finding and/or retaining workers.
And 39% said the lack of skilled applicants is the greatest obstacle to growth.
Baldiga said it is important to teach students that engineering can be for anyone, and the things they are learning in class have real-world applications.
“The skillsets and the things they’re learning in grade school—when you’re plotting numbers on a number line—that’s the start of CNC programming or working with a robot,” he said.
Cook said there needs to be a “statewide vision on workforce.”
“Really having a vision from a school kid right up to someone that’s doing an advanced degree,” he said.
“If you don’t have that alignment at the state level, you’re really going to miss out on coordinating that pipeline.”
Range of Expertise
To break into the manufacturing industry, Howey emphasized that students are hired at all levels.
“There’s an awful lot of talk about college degrees, but I can tell you most manufacturers have a lot more people that don’t have college degrees,” he said.
“Really the hands-on people that actually make the thing run everyday.”
DiPentima said once students are in their career, it does not have to be the end of their education.
“Our manufacturers never stop learning,” he said.
Mullins encouraged employers to support students on their professional journey.
“Not every student is going to follow the same path,” he said.
“But if we can encourage them to follow their passion, make this accessible to them, and give them the taste of success, then they will be successful and will come to your companies.”
DiPentima emphasized that addressing the state’s high cost of living was also critical to building the manufacturing workforce.
“CBIA will always advocate for lowering taxes and things to make the state more affordable,” he said.
“But really what businesses are focused on is how do we make the state more affordable for individuals, so we can keep our residents here, keep our graduates here post-graduation, and attract new residents into Connecticut.”
CBIA advocates for a series of policy solutions—including more affordable housing, enhanced infrastructure, and filling childcare positions—to make the state more affordable, DiPentima said.
“Continuing to focus on those things to make the state more affordable for the individual, so that we can keep our graduates here and add more graduates here,” he said.
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