Reengaging Disconnected Youth Helps Address Workforce Challenges


The following article first appeared in the Hartford Business Journal.

Connecticut finished 2023 with 94,000 job openings—about where we began the year and 27,000 more vacancies than in February 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world. 

Demand for workers continues to outstrip supply, with the state’s labor force—those working and those looking for work—declining by 14,300 people in 2023.

Connecticut’s labor force is now down 37,900 people since February 2020, with employers citing the shortage of workers as the main factor impacting economic growth. 

Connecticut’s businesses continue to see strong demand for their products and services, but with 1.3 job openings for every unemployed person, the labor market is not meeting the demands of the economy. 

There are numerous factors driving the worker shortage. While many are structural and predate the pandemic, COVID certainly has not helped, with many leaving the workforce for health reasons or needing to care for a loved one. 

A large percentage of women, for instance, have not returned to the workforce in the last three years, with the lack of accessible childcare a major consideration. 

Population Growth

Connecticut already had an aging workforce, and many workers opted for early retirement. We’ve also had minimal population growth over the last decade, despite a pandemic bump. 

Our cost of living and cost of doing business remain significant hurdles to much needed population growth, as does a lack of housing options. 

We need a series of solutions for the labor shortage, the greatest challenge to Connecticut’s long-term, sustained economic growth.  

We cannot solve the labor shortage without improving and implementing career pathways and opportunities for women, immigrants, returning citizens, veterans, and those from underserved and often forgotten communities. 

That’s why CBIA and Dalio Education are working together to amplify efforts highlighting Connecticut’s young adults who are at-risk or disconnected from education and employment, and advance solutions to a statewide issue that has enormous human and economic cost.

Opportunity Cost

The findings of Dalio Education’s comprehensive report, “Connecticut’s Unspoken Crisis,” released earlier this year, are alarming: one in five Connecticut 14-26-year-olds are at-risk or disconnected.

That’s 119,000 people, including 44,000 who are experiencing moderate disconnection, meaning they have a high school diploma, but they are neither employed nor in post-secondary education. 

These 119,000 young people live in every city and town—not just urban centers—demonstrating the pervasiveness of this issue and the growing need for all of us to act. 

Every year that passes without action costs our economy between $650 million to $750 million. There’s the $350 million to $400 million spent for young people who are disconnected on costs associated with Medicaid, SNAP, rental assistance, TANF, and incarceration.

And then consider the opportunity cost: reengaging disconnected young people will bring $300 million to $350 million in additional tax revenue, driven by higher earnings, which translate to higher income taxes and greater levels of consumer activity. The impact on the state’s GDP would exceed $5 billion annually. 

CBIA recently hosted 20 forums across the state to hear directly from a diverse range of stakeholders—employers, state lawmakers, agency officials, educators, and nonprofit groups—and gather feedback to inform and develop a long-term economic competitiveness and opportunity strategy for Connecticut. 

The labor shortage rang as a constant refrain, with employers acutely aware that the old ways of attracting, training, and retaining talent no longer have the same resonance. 

Strengthen Connections

CBIA and Dalio Education also hosted forums with employers, educators, and social service providers to generate ideas for getting young adults back on track and engaged in the labor force.

We heard about the importance of building cross-sector collaborations and systems that ensure young people do not fall through the cracks. 

We also heard about the need for developing supported employment programs, modeled after Forge City Works, where nonprofits and social enterprises collaborate to meet young adults where they are, support them in developing skills, and help connect them to jobs. 

Greater awareness is the first step. We must strengthen connections among the many stakeholders supporting young people and boost the capacity and capabilities of high-performing organizations. 

We also must reinforce and expand programs, including evidence-based supports and services, supported employment programs, high-touch case management, and pathways to meaningful, rewarding careers. 

Join us in working together to help get 119,000 young people back on track—and ultimately address Connecticut’s labor shortage.

About the authors: Barbara Dalio is the founder and co-CEO of Dalio Education; Chris DiPentima is president and CEO of CBIA; and Andrew Ferguson is co-CEO of Dalio Education.


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