Connecticut's new CareerConneCT workforce development training initiative has attracted more than $250 million in grant applications, well beyond the program's $70 million budget.
The volume of applications highlights the extent of the state's skilled worker shortage, a growing crisis that threatens Connecticut's economic recovery.
CareerConneCT was launched in January to provide short-term training programs offering industry-recognized credentials and and employment opportunities in high-demand industries, including manufacturing, information technology, healthcare, infrastructure, and clean energy.
The state's Office of Workforce Strategy administers the program, which is funded through allocations from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
"[This surge] was not a surprise given the need for job training and reskilling that currently exists in Connecticut," OWS chief of staff Niall Dammando said.
Shrinking Labor Force
As of December 2021, there were 110,000 job openings in Connecticut, a 64% increase over the previous December.
However, Connecticut's labor force—the number of employed residents plus those actively looking for work—has fallen by 83,400 people since February 2020.
That represents 46% of the New England labor force decline and more than 14% of national losses over that period.
The state's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high—at 5.3%, it's tied with New York for the sixth highest in the country.
CBIA/Marcum’s 2021 Survey of Connecticut Businesses found that over a third of business leaders (35%) report the lack of skilled job applicants was the main factor hampering growth.
Eighty percent expressed difficulty finding and/or retaining workers, with one-third of those citing a lack of skills or expertise among applicants as the main difficulty.
Connecticut has recovered 78% of the historic 289,400 jobs lost in March and April of 2020—second slowest in the region and well behind the U.S. average of 91%.
Highly skilled, high-paying sectors such as financial activities, information, and manufacturing are among the sectors in the state seeing the slowest recovery.
CBIA's Ashley Zane said recovering lost jobs and resolving the labor shortage are CBIA’s top policy priorities this legislative session.
“This surge in applications may actually be a benefit,” CBIA's Ashley Zane said.
“The over subscription shows the need for this type of program, but also allows OWS to select the best providers that match the needs of the state’s workforce.
“This gives the OWS options on how to proceed in order to maximize these funds and adapt as needed.”
'Part of the Solution'
Gov. Ned Lamont's proposed fiscal 2022 budget amendments include an additional $15 million in funding for the program.
Zane believes CareerConneCT is a step in the right direction for Connecticut’s public and private sectors.
“Many providers see this as an opportunity to be part of the solution and work with an organization whose goals align with theirs,” she said.
“These providers understand the value public private partnerships can bring to both the state and the private sector.”
Shannon Marimón—executive director of CBIA affiliate ReadyCT, which operates career pathways for K-12 students—sees CareerConneCT as a way to combat future skilled labor shortages.
"Given widespread challenges posed by talent shortages, we really aren't surprised that requests to CareerConneCT to support workforce development programming are about four times above available funding," Marimón said.
ReadyCT applied for a grant through the program to help high school seniors pursue education, training, and careers in the state’s high-growth and high-demand industries.
Marimón said the grant will further ReadyCT’s mission of preparing the next generation of workers “from the postsecondary career launch planning that we do all the way through reskilling and upskilling incumbent workers."
“When solutions start and fan out from the high school level, there is reason to be excited about what CareerConneCT can accomplish in both the short- and long-term," she said.