A $1 million federal grant will enable CONNSTEP, Connecticut’s premier business consulting firm, to inventory, evaluate, and warehouse school initiatives that serve as talent pipelines for advanced manufacturing.

CONNSTEP will partner with affiliates CBIA and ReadyCT, and Rhode Island counterpart Polaris to execute the project.

The two-year effort will compile information on education models that were evaluated for effectiveness and inclusivity with a goal of developing a set of components and criteria for effective career pathways programs.

Final findings will be posted on a web-based portal with best educational practices for implementation.

“This project has tremendous potential for statewide, cross-sector impact,” said Bonnie Del Conte, president and CEO of CONNSTEP.

“When manufacturers have a better understanding of what pathways exist and how to replicate those that are effective, the education-industry link can strengthen and grow in ways that benefit a range of stakeholders.”

Skills Shortage 

The $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology comes as advanced manufacturing is increasing across Connecticut.

The range of products that Connecticut’s 4,000 manufacturers make account for 11% of the state’s gross domestic product.

Connecticut’s manufacturers, including many small businesses, pay $12.6 billion in annual wages and employ around 155,000 people, roughly 10% of the state’s workforce.

But the issue that has vexed Connecticut’s manufacturers for years—finding qualified working for well-paying jobs—continues to be a problem.

ReadyCT executive director Shannon Marimón said while some Connecticut school districts are responding to the surge in workforce demand, more is needed.

“A handful of the 169 public school districts in the state offer exposure to manufacturing careers,” she said.

Exposure

“That’s a great start, but the truth is too few high school students are interested in and prepared for careers in manufacturing mostly because they aren’t exposed to them.

“Add in everything from parental disapproval to misconceptions that manufacturing jobs are dirty work to the recent push for universal college, and we’ve got a lot of barriers we need to push through to make sure students understand how exciting and interesting advancing manufacturing careers are, circa 2020.”

CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said the primary workforce need of manufacturers is recruiting and preparing a substantial number of young, qualified workers.

“We’ve got emerging digital technologies and autonomous production systems disrupting traditional factory practices of assembly, packaging, distribution, so businesses now require a workforce of digital natives prepared to meet this changing environment,” he said.

Connecticut is part of this nationwide problem, he added.

“Predictions of manufacturing job openings nationwide are upwards of 2.4 million," he said. "This project is long overdue and will help solve the dominant need of Connecticut’s manufacturers.”