Derby High School principal Marty Pascale says the school's seniors are pursuing a diverse range of career options.
"We've got kids on Harvard interviews, kids visiting UConn and other campuses, and kids pursuing vocational opportunities," Pascale explains.
The Naugatuck Valley school is home to a first-of-its-kind program for Connecticut, one that's taking a direct approach to the state's growing shortage of skilled workers.
Opened last May, the Advanced Manufacturing Learning Center was built in collaboration with Housatonic Community College, Asnuntuck Community College, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, and other stakeholders.
"We've got over a million dollars worth of machinery in the basement," Pascale said, noting the center allows students to put classroom concepts to work.
"This is about bridging the gap for students at comprehensive high schools who are not pursuing a traditional college path."
Pascale was among a crowd of 60 employers, educators, and state officials at a Feb. 13 workforce development forum at Bigelow Tea in Fairfield.
The forum was the first in the statewide Cup O' Joe Road Show series—produced by CBIA and its affiliate ReadyCT in conjunction with the state Department of Labor and the state Department of Education—designed to focus attention on aligning employer talent needs with K-12 public education.
"When it comes to talent pipelines, we need to pay more attention to K-12," said ReadyCT executive director Shannon Marimón. "Students are eager to learn the skills employers want, and those employers are benefiting greatly from that.
"Our goal is to make all stakeholders aware of business-education collaborations that are working and how to expand on that as aligned with regional workforce needs."
Marimón is quick to point out that a collaboration between business and education doesn't mean a student must then choose to go directly into a career over college.
"This isn't an either/or situation for students," she said. "It's a both/and scenario, and students hired through work-based learning experiences may ultimately have an opportunity to access tuition reimbursement through employer-provided benefits."
Collaboration and skills-based learning were key themes for forum panelists Todd Berch, the state Department of Labor's apprenticeship manager; state Senator Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield); Housatonic Community College director of community and campus relations Richard DuPont; and Dennis Yaremich, career pathways program director, Sikorsky Aircraft, Teamsters Local 1150.
"The key word is partnerships," Berch said. "Without public-private partnerships we are not going to be successful."
"The collaboration that we have in the community is what's so critical," DuPont added. "More and more employers are starting to understand the value of programs like ours.
"We are giving people the opportunity to step on a college campus that might not otherwise have that opportunity.
"They earn credentials toward a career that changes their lives and changes their families' lives."
Sikorsky, Teamsters Program
Stratford-based Sikorsky has partnered with Teamsters Local 1150 for almost two decades on a program that exposes students to hands-on learning, manufacturing skills, and jobs.
Yaremich said the pre-apprenticeship program, which offers 16 weeks of work-based training across two years, draws "hundreds and hundreds" of applicants from area high schools.
"This is a true partnership between Local 1150, Sikorsky, the state Department of Education, the state Department of Labor, and the high schools," he said.
"What better way for Sikorsky Aircraft to vet potential future hires than have them work side-by-side with experienced union mechanics for 16 weeks.
"They are then the first people hired after they graduate high school."
Forum attendee Mark Meller, from Norwalk-based manufacturing company PDC International, said the firm runs its own outreach programs with local middle schools.
"That's been more successful for us," he said. "Parents and kids often have a pretty set agenda when they are in high school."
Three more forums are scheduled across the state, with another tentatively planned for Waterbury:
- Thursday, Feb. 20, 8-9 am: Stamford
- Thursday, Mar. 5, 8-9 am: New London
- Friday, March 13, 8-9 am: New Haven