The executive responsible for professional training at the largest maker of fabricating equipment and industrial lasers in North America called on state lawmakers to do more to help Connecticut’s manufacturers fill the skills gap.
Christine Benz of Farmington-based TRUMPF Inc. testified March 9 before the Higher Education Committee in support of SB 837, which creates a task force to study high-growth, high-demand jobs and analyze the use of partnerships that provide additional apprenticeship opportunities.
“We at TRUMPF struggle to hire employees with the skill set we are looking for as a high-technology firm, and we need innovative ideas to develop our workforce,” Benz testified.
Benz oversees the continuous professional development of TRUMPF’s 700-plus employees and provides customers with the knowledge they need to operate the company’s complex equipment.
The skills gap employers are facing keeps Connecticut from reaching its true economic potential, as thousands of unfilled positions slow production in factories across the state.
Baby boomers are retiring, and a new generation of skilled workers is needed to fill those positions.
Connecticut’s technical high schools and community colleges are trying to fill the gap through manufacturing and advanced manufacturing programs, but the challenge is getting today’s youth to recognize that manufacturing skills can lead to a well-paying career.
'A Career Worth Having'
At Connecticut Business Day on March 8, Gov. Dannel Malloy agreed the state must do more to promote manufacturing careers.
“You go into advanced manufacturing, and within a reasonable period of time, you could be making $90,000 to $120,000 a year,” Malloy told more than 300 business leaders from across the state.
“That’s a career worth having.”
Benz noted the role Connecticut manufacturers play in the state’s economy, with nearly 4,500 manufacturing firms accounting for 10% of all nonfarm jobs.
“But manufacturers continue to face a significant challenge regarding workforce development. The 2014 Survey of Connecticut’s Manufacturing Needs estimated 9,300 manufacturing job opening,” she said.
“The need for highly skilled workers is significant and immediate.”
Boost Apprenticeship Training
Benz called on lawmakers to boost training through public-private partnerships that make students aware of apprenticeship programs and raise their interest in manufacturing careers.
“Measures need to be identified and implemented that lessen the burden of apprenticeship-program development, administration, and cost among firms.”
CBIA submitted testimony to the Higher Education Committee on SB 947. It establishes a process designed to increase hiring manufacturing-technology faculty at state community-technical colleges.
The bill waives advanced degree requirements for applicants with relevant manufacturing experience.
A similar bill, SB 950, streamlines hiring of manufacturing teachers in the state’s technical high school system by allowing applicants to substitute work experience for advanced-degree requirements.
CBIA Counsel Jennifer Herz submitted testimony to the committee in favor of SB 947, and to the legislature's Education Committee in support of SB 950.
“Workforce development is a key issue for Connecticut’s employers. Connecticut’s skilled workforce is often cited as a reason employers locate and remain in Connecticut,” Herz said.
“Focusing on keeping that talent pipeline strong is a worthwhile effort.”