Finding Employees: Connecticut Workforce Programs


Workforce dynamics in Connecticut have changed for good. That was the main takeaway Kelli-Marie Vallieres, executive director of the state’s new Office of Workforce Strategy, took from the pandemic. 

“The social fabric of our lives and our communities have changed since the pandemic,” Vallieres explained.

Workforce programs: (clockwise, from top left) CBIA’s Ashley Zane with Laura Baker, Kelli-Marie Vallieres, and Niall Dammando from Connecticut’s Office of Workforce Strategy.

“What do we need to do to help people overcome some of those barriers of getting back into employment?”

Vallieres spoke at an Oct. 6 webinar hosted by CBIA’s Ashley Zane and was joined by OWS chief of staff Niall Dammando and workforce development specialist Laura Baker.

Regional Sector Partnerships

Vallieres began by explaining the areas of focus of the Governor’s Workforce Council’s 2020 strategic plan, particularly the importance of regional sector partnerships (see below).

These partnerships connect business leaders and training providers to create pathways to fill gaps in the workforce.

“The work that businesses need to do to engage students in work-based learning opportunities, work-based hiring, figuring out how to get people back to work and upskilled … those conversations really happen under the regional sector partnerships,” Vallieres said.

Capital Area Tech Partnership, the first regional sector partnership, includes over 50 technology companies, along with OWS, Capital Workforce Partners, MetroHartford Alliance, IT and tech businesses, and training and education partners.

The partnership aims to train participants for crucial IT jobs in the region.


A major issue OWS seeks to address is moving beyond what someone’s degree is, and focusing on their skills.

“There might be jobs that someone would totally be qualified to do, but because of certain qualifications on the job description, they are immediately siphoned out,” Dammando explained.

One way the group is combating the issue is through Grads of Life, an organization focusing on “the benefits of inclusive and equitable talent practices.”

 “This work is really meant to knock down those barriers,” Dammando said, “and ensure that inclusive hiring practices are being adopted across the board.” 

Dammando noted the importance of a “statewide intake portal,” that can easily connect job seekers with training programs.

He cited the Connecticut Department of Labor’s CTHires website, which currently serves as a job portal. 

Dammando said OWS worked with DOL and workforce boards to “directly improve that system, so that it can serve as the central statewide portal where you can find really qualified applicants really quickly” for a variety of jobs and training programs. 

Training and Education

The Manufacturing Innovation Fund, which recently received $20 million in new funding from the legislature, has proven to be a major asset for businesses across the state.

The fund includes initiatives such as:

  • Voucher program providing companies with capital to further develop equipment and expertise needed to grow 
  • Incumbent worker training fund offering funds for workforce training
  • Apprenticeship program combining a mix of classroom instruction and job training in the state’s manufacturing industry
  • Internship program offering internships at an early stage for college students in order to retain them and provide work-based learning

Baker spoke about the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, in particular the 180 Skills Online Training program, which serves as a supplementary tool available to employers to train employees. 

The program “offers over 700 online courses” for employees, and is looking to expand and improve for employers. Some training programs include employability skills, HR and safety, sexual harassment training, and CNC training.

Baker also mentioned the value of continuing education programs in colleges across the state. Baker’s alma mater, Central Connecticut State University, offers “21st century leadership, basic Excel classes, basic Word classes, and project management” courses.

Vallieres mentioned CBIA affiliate CONNSTEP, a leading business consulting firm, as a great resource for manufacturers that has “an enormous amount of resources, support systems, and expertise in lean manufacturing, automation, and other ways to help make your businesses more efficient.”

She also acknowledged the work of another CBIA affiliate, ReadyCT, which builds partnerships to advance education policy and develop career pathway to better prepare the workforce of tomorrow.

Looking Forward

While there are many workforce development programs currently available, Vallieres also looked towards the future. Some of the upcoming programs OWS is developing include:

  • A partnership with Google to provide Google Certificates free of charge for community colleges and technical high schools across the state
  • A similar partnership with Amazon
  • A collaboration with GEAR UP, which provides “life skills, professional skills, support necessary” for people entering training programs
  • Work with hospital systems across the state to build a work pipeline for healthcare workers

Vallieres concluded the webinar talking about the value and importance of the “collaboration and the partnerships that we’ve been able to forge over the last year, and continue to build on.”

“It takes all of us working together, braiding our resources, thinking about the big picture, thinking about how we can scale best practices and models across the state and really come together and have a conversation on workforce in one place,” she said.

Regional Workforce Boards

Office of Workforce Strategy

Connecticut Department of Labor

CBIA and Affiliates

Chief Manufacturing Officer

Connecticut Center for Advanced Manufacturing


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