The legislature’s Education Committee raised a number of concept bills at its Feb. 1 meeting that could impact the state’s technical high schools.
Connecticut’s manufacturers face a significant shortage of skilled workers at a time of rapidly growing production demand.
This challenge requires multi-faceted solutions, including getting more students interested in manufacturing as a career.
Schools and manufacturers must work together to change the perception of the industry in the minds of students, parents, guidance counselors, and others who may influence a student’s career choices.
Connecticut manufacturers provide challenging, well-paying careers, often in a high-tech environment.
The bills raised in the Education Committee seek to address another aspect filling this skills gap: teacher hiring.
Technical high schools, as well as community colleges, face challenges in finding teachers with the right skills who are willing to share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of manufacturers.
First, the administrative process for hiring a new manufacturing teacher at the technical high schools must be streamlined.
This is a high growth industry in the state, so we must all pull in the same direction to get our students trained and into the workforce.
Delaying filling teacher openings or using substitute teachers who lack the right experience is unacceptable.
Next, we must also address certification requirements.
Currently, technical high school teachers need eight years of industry experience to teach at our technical high schools.
Connecticut needs to grow its economy, and manufacturing will play a major role in that effort.
Unfortunately, the technical high schools can’t afford a similar salary, which lessens the chance of getting teachers with industry experience.
Allowing an industry professional with five years of experience to teach would help streamline the hiring process.
Education Committee co-chair Sen. Gayle Slossberg (D-Milford) supports a proposal to streamline the hiring process, saying will "attract qualified teachers, allowing for more students to enroll in classes and expand Connecticut's school-to-work pipeline."
"Manufacturing is one of Connecticut's fastest growing industries, and we need to ensure that our technical high schools are able to meet the increasing demand of students and businesses," she said.
"Connecticut needs to grow its economy, and manufacturing will play a major role in that effort. Continuing to build Connecticut's technical education programs is a critical aspect of our commitment to supporting job-seekers and industry."
'A Serious Problem'
Doug Johnson, president of Cheshire-based Marion Manufacturing Co., called the teacher hiring proposal “a step in the right direction.”
“We have to find a way to fill these positions quickly as this shortage of skilled workers is continuing to grow,” he said.
“There are a lot of good programs within our education system that cannot perform at the level we need because of a manufacturing-teacher shortage.”
Katherine Saint, president and CEO of Schwerdtle Technologies in Bridgeport, called the teaching shortage “a serious problem.”
She noted that a successful CNC machinist with eight years of experience would take a pay cut of roughly $20,000 to become a teacher, which would be a hard financial hit for most people, especially those with a family.
We have to find a way to fill these positions quickly as this shortage of skilled workers is continuing to grow.
She also noted that while continuing education is an important piece of teacher training, the existing requirements on technical high school teachers are inflexible.
The required training is only offered at Central Connecticut State University, making it difficult for many teachers because of travel or scheduling issues.
Saint called for alternative ways of learning that would involve less travel, such as online classes, or weekend boot camp models.
Lawmakers should also recognize that Connecticut’s community colleges are attempting to help manufacturers fill the skills gap by training students for these challenging, well-paying jobs.
But they, too, are facing obstacles in hiring qualified teachers and are also looking to expedite the hiring process.