In a stunning turnaround from just three years ago, 85% of Connecticut manufacturers expect to add full-time employees by the end of 2015 according to a survey released last week.

These projections represent a significant jump from 2011, when fewer than one in three manufacturers surveyed (30%) planned to make full-time hires.

Based on survey data collected this year, CBIA Economist Pete Gioia estimates 9,300 openings across 14 job categories among manufacturing companies statewide.

The 2014 Survey of Connecticut Manufacturing Workforce Needs was produced by CBIA in partnership with UIL Holdings Corporation and the Connecticut Community Colleges’ College of Technology’s Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing.

Results were released at Made in Connecticut: 2014 Manufacturing Summit, where top manufacturing executives along with representatives of the state’s workforce investment and education system offered reactions and insights.

Demand Growing

“When I saw the survey… it really resonated with me,” said TRUMPF Training Center Manager Christine Benz, citing one of report’s key findings regarding the toughest jobs to fill: tool and die maker, CNC programmer, and CAD/CAM technician.

“This is exactly the area where TRUMPF has the biggest challenge filling positions.”

Benz participated in a panel discussion on Connecticut’s manufacturing workforce along with Richard Wheeler, president of Capewell Components Co.; Karen Wosczyna-Birch, state director of the Connecticut College of Technology and executive director of the Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing; Douglas Johnson, vice president of operations at Marion Manufacturing Co.; and Judith Resnick, executive director of CBIA’s Education Foundation.

Benz characterized positions such as tool and die maker, CNC programmer, and others as falling into the “middle-skill area,” meaning that workers need more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a four-year degree.

She expressed concern that by some estimates, a 17.5% increase in demand for these types of jobs is expected by 2020, even though finding suitable candidates is an enormous challenge already.

Apprenticeships on the Rise

“In North America, we look across the pond with envy,” she said, noting that a system of two-year apprenticeships in Europe—where TRUMPF has several production facilities—strengthens the manufacturing workforce pipeline.

“Over there, companies are provided with a vast resource,” she said, describing a system in which students divide their time between vocational schools and employers, “bypassing college and college debt while getting a first-class education,” as well as a paycheck, and in most cases, a guaranteed full-time job.

Colin Cooper, CEO of Whitcraft Group [pictured above], said apprenticeship programs can “deepen the skill base” and “turbo-boost” the industry.

According to the survey, 30% of Connecticut manufacturers plan to develop or expand apprenticeship programs.

That number is likely higher now, says Gioia, since the survey took place in March and April, before the General Assembly expanded the apprenticeship tax credit program to include manufacturers of all sizes.