Ask any Connecticut manufacturer about their challenges, and you're certain to hear that finding talented workers is among the top priorities.
That's why nearly 100 Connecticut companies welcomed 1,600 high school students to the Connecticut Convention Center Nov. 20 for the annual Aerospace Components Manufacturers trade show.
In just one year, attendance at The World's Aerospace Alley trade show jumped dramatically, from 600 students to 1,600.
"There simply are not enough people sufficiently trained to handle the high-tech aerospace manufacturing jobs today, let alone those new jobs opening up in coming years," said ACM executive director Paul Murphy.
"Today, nearly every corporation of our Aerospace Components Manufacturers consortium has job openings."
A total of 95 ACM member companies were present alongside five colleges and six affiliated organizations, including CONNSTEP, Murphy said.
Murphy added that 890 corporate visitors attended the afternoon session, which included several keynote speakers and exhibits.
David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, was making his first trip to the ACM show.
"I'm very impressed,” said Lehman, who attended alongside Gov. Ned Lamont and Colin Cooper, the state's new chief manufacturing officer.
"Just hearing that there are 1,600 kids here that are focused on learning more about manufacturing and the possible career fields that come with it, it's just really exciting," Lehman said.
"Manufacturing is such a strong sector for our state in terms of density, and the more people we can get involved in it, the more it strengthens that cluster."
This was also Lamont's first time at the ACM trade show and when he addressed the crowd, he urged everyone to see what these companies had to offer.
"Advanced manufacturing is an incredible career," Lamont said. "There's a great job waiting for you right here in the state of Connecticut."
The timing of the convention could not have been any better for students like Armando Gonzalez, who will graduate from Asnuntuck Community College with a manufacturing certificate next month.
"The machine operating program at Asnuntuck is a good program and I would definitely recommend it," said Gonzalez, as he filled out a job application.
Oxford High School senior Nathan Riemer also recognizes the different and specific aerospace opportunities Connecticut has to offer.
"I'm looking to go out of state for a manufacturing program, but it's interesting to see how individualized companies are becoming here," Riemer said.
"I'm not entirely sure what manufacturing field I'm going to go into, but it's interesting to see how I'm going to have to decide on a small focus."
'Return on Investment'
The average annual manufacturing compensation in Connecticut is $95,118, about $20,000 more than the state's overall average income.
"It's a good industry with good pay and benefits, but it's also very challenging—a lot of stuff is super-complicated as these are highly engineered products," said John Vecchio of Kaman Aerospace.
"It takes an entire team to get the job done—from engineering to manufacturing to shipping—and get the parts to the customer on time."
"Four year colleges certainly aren't for everybody," said Michael Wing, a current employee at Horst Engineering and a former Asnuntuck graduate.
"It cost me around $7,500 to complete my manufacturing program and it was one of the best moves that I could have ever made.
"I don't think you're going to find a better deal for return on investment than through some of these programs."