The silos that prevented Connecticut’s manufacturers from taking full advantage of the many workforce development and apprenticeship programs across the state are starting to break down.

“Previously, business was kind of pushed to the side and we were trying to get our voice heard from the outside,” Kelli-Marie Vallieres, executive director of Connecticut’s new Office of Workforce Strategy, said at the Made in Connecticut: 2020 Manufacturing Summit.

State workforce initiatives: (clockwise, from top left) DECD commissioner David Lehman, chief manufacturing officer Colin Cooper, DOL commissioner Kurt Westby, and workforce officer executive director Kelli-Marie Vallieres.

“But that all changed with Gov. Lamont.”

Lamont revamped the state’s Workforce Development Council, appointed Colin Cooper as the state’s first chief manufacturing officer, and recently named Vallieres, a veteran Connecticut manufacturer, to direct the new workforce office.

“All of those things have brought us from these diverse siloes to this point in time where we can start having collective conversations that meet the needs of the whole across manufacturing in Connecticut,” Vallieres said in a panel discussion on state manufacturing initiatives.

“Perception can be reality, and there is the perception, right or wrong, that parts of the government work in silos and there is not the interaction there needs to be,” said panel moderator David Lehman, the state’s economic development commissioner.

Silos Coming Down

But the panelists, including Cooper and state Department of Labor commissioner Kurt Westby, said they are seeing those silos coming down.

“There’s always been a lot of talk about sector partnerships, and some action, but I think that in the last year or so, with the Governor’s Workforce Council and other agencies, we’ve been putting together a plan to make that real,” Westby said.

“There’s a heightened sense of awareness of manufacturing in state government, an understanding that manufacturing’s high wages provide young people with careers not just jobs,” Cooper said.

"There’s a heightened sense of awareness of manufacturing in state government."

Colin Cooper

Just days after the manufacturing summit, Lamont released the workforce council’s strategic plan, a document Vallieres said has been one year in the making.

“We’re really excited about this plan,” Vallieres said, describing it as a “four-legged stool.” The four legs are:

  • Developing a workforce agenda that reflects the talent needs of business and industry
  • Building an agile education system that can meet those needs
  • Ensuring students and job seekers have the support to stay in the workforce
  • Creating a data system infrastructure that tracks outcomes and progress over time

Plan Highlights

“Our businesses are our customers, and when it comes to workforce development, our students are the product of our system,” Vallieres said.

“We need to make sure the system is churning out the people and skills necessary to meet the immediate demand and also address the medium- and long-term needs of the industry.”

The plan highlights the manufacturing, life sciences, healthcare, and IT/business services sectors.

The council worked with the business community, state agencies, and other stakeholders to create initiatives and metrics that would serve as a roadmap to improving the state’s workforce and educational pipeline. 

The plan highlights the manufacturing, life sciences, healthcare, and IT/business services sectors as areas where demand for highly skilled labor and tools are needed.

The plan outlines many key shortfalls within these sectors focused primarily around worker deficits as the state experiences an increase in retirements and the need for multi-dimensional workforce training as high-demand sectors continue to evolve.  

Collaboration

What’s amazing, Cooper said, is that everyone on the council agreed on the plan.

“That’s another example of working collaboratively and breaking down the silos,” he said.

Another thing the administration has done well is recruit people from the business community, Cooper said.

That includes Cooper, who came from the aerospace industry, Lehman from finance, chief operating officer Josh Geballe from business, and Vallieres from manufacturing.

“These are people who don’t have pre-existing fiefdoms,” Cooper said. “They’re just looking to get results.”

Defense Initiative

Cooper also announced a new initiative around defense manufacturing in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Defense Manufacturing Community Consortium will serve as a steering committee focused on digital transformation of the defense manufacturing supply base.

CBIA affiliate CONNSTEP will serve on the committee.

"Manufacturing has the most well-developed sector partnerships across the state than any of our other industries."

Kelli-Marie Vallieres

Vallieres said manufacturing in Connecticut is strong in many ways—but there’s still work to do.

“Manufacturing has the most well-developed sector partnerships across the state than any of our other industries,” she said. “We’re very well organized and our relationships are strong.

“But what we’d like to do is build upon those partnerships to add in some of the other issues around workforce that we may have never thought about—the equity and access issue, the support people need to fully participate in work-based learning.”


For more information, contact CBIA's Ashley Zane (860.244.1169).