The following article first appeared in the opinion pages of the Hartford Courant.
We saw it coming a decade ago. Now it's here and a growing problem.
Connecticut's aerospace industry simply does not have enough skilled people to take over for retiring workers and accommodate growing demand. Nearly every member of our Aerospace Components Manufacturers trade group has job openings. We need qualified workers who can step into retirees' shoes with little discernible impact on productivity.
Unfortunately, although most of the people entering the job market are educated, not enough are specifically educated in high-tech aerospace manufacturing. Many states, including Connecticut, cut funding for vocational and technical training at a time when skilled workers are increasingly needed.
As more baby boomers retire, many of their employers are noting a clear skills shortage, leaving aerospace companies desperate to fill the technical jobs of operating the mostly computerized equipment that produces precision components for aircraft worldwide.
The issue is compounded by a recent surge in aerospace manufacturing in the defense and commercial sectors. It's a double-edged sword: The industry is booming, and the boomers are aging. We need an influx of skilled workers for both reasons.
Skills, Experience, Aptitude
According to a report from the Department of Defense, aerospace and defense companies are "faced with a shortage of qualified workers to meet current demands" and must "integrate a younger workforce with the right skills, aptitude, experience, and interest to step into the jobs vacated by senior-level engineers and skilled technicians' as they exit the workforce."
Experts differ on just how extensive the shortage of skilled workers is in our state and nationally. Statistics aside, there is no question that statewide and nationwide companies are finding it difficult to fill jobs, at a time when our state is looking to attract companies to Connecticut. It also is at a time when ACM members are working to bring new orders to our members from aircraft engine makers across the globe.
"The need for skilled workers is real. Most companies in the aerospace supply chain in Connecticut rank this as their No. 1 challenge today," said Colin Cooper, co-executive chair of Whitcraft Group.
It's a double-edged sword: The industry is booming, and the boomers are aging.
"In addition, funding for programs such as the Manufacturing Innovation Fund is supporting vital initiatives in incumbent worker training, apprenticeships for new entrants into manufacturing and a myriad of other training, investment and manufacturing innovation and efficiency programs."
"However," Cooper added, "for Connecticut to capitalize on the current economic opportunities and remain competitive, and thrive, in a worldwide market, more emphasis must be placed on developing and growing the skilled workforce that has made Connecticut the world leader in aerospace manufacturing."
Today, manufacturing often requires post-secondary education, especially considering computerized production requires advanced training in math and science. True competence in modern manufacturing requires advanced education in either technical or scientific fields — and those jobs pay well.
On Nov. 7, ACM will host The Aerospace Alley Tradeshow & Future Work Force Opportunities Fair at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. This is an opportunity for students and their parents to learn about burgeoning opportunities in the aerospace field in Connecticut.
I hope educators and legislators will take note. The manufacturers and the state of Connecticut cannot afford to lose these opportunities to other states or countries because we cannot meet the demand due to a lack of a qualified talent pool.
Essentially, there needs to be a further shift in educational priorities in Connecticut and, frankly, across the country. Our state legislature needs to step up even more than in the past to help emphasize technical training.
Tunxis Community College this year established the state's eighth manufacturing education program—a program that will accommodate only about 30 to 50 students. That's an important step… but only a small drop in the bucket.
Let's not stop there.
About the author: Paul Murphy is executive director of the Aerospace Components Manufacturers, a consortium of independent Connecticut aerospace manufacturers.