Workforce Development: Discovering Hidden Talent


Connecticut has seen encouraging growth in its labor force in recent months, with an easing in the post-pandemic workforce shortage that has hampered economic growth.

However, employers continue to cite the shortage of employees as their greatest challenge to growth.

“Solving the workforce challenge is not an easy one,” CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said at the April 16 Connecticut Workforce Summit. “It takes creativity, trying new things, and collaboration.”

The event, which drew a record crowd of over 500 stakeholders from business, education, community–based organizations, and the public sector, focused on discovering hidden talent, and the partnerships and programs that provide opportunities to rewarding careers. 

“Opportunity is central to addressing the issue and key to economic mobility,” said DiPentima.

He stressed the importance of improving and implementing career pathways for women, immigrants, returning citizens, veterans, and those from underserved and oft-forgotten communities.

Hidden Talent

“We take the hidden talent that we have in Connecticut, and we shine a light on it and make sure that they’re not hidden anymore,” noted chief workforce officer Kelli Marie Vallieres.

“I think it’s more important than ever to talk about workforce development, to talk about finding hidden talent today,” added Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret.

Based in Milwaukee, Rockwell is the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation. 

“It’s more important than ever to talk about workforce development,” said Rockwell Automation’s Blake Moret.

Moret said it may seem ironic for a company that focuses on automation to also focus on workforce. 

“But the combination of the technology, and the expertise is absolutely essential,” he said.

Moret serves on the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment and the National Association of Manufacturers’ executive committee, co-chairs the World Economic Forum’s Advanced Manufacturing Community of CEOs, and is a member of the Business Roundtable.

Casting a Wide Net

“There’s no one size fits all program,” he said. “What I found is that the importance of local partnerships is absolutely essential.”

Moret said Rockwell utilizes several partnerships to develop its workforce, with a focus on diversity and casting a wide net.

That includes training and internship programs, and working with schools to create curriculum and introduce students to the manufacturing industry. 

“Understanding the case for diversity is absolutely essential.”

Rockwell Automation’s Blake Moret

Moret said it’s important to provide an environment that attracts and retains people from different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. 

“What we found, of course, is that it can’t just be top down,” he said.

“Understanding the case for diversity is absolutely essential throughout the organization.”

Amplifying Opportunities

Part of the solution in Connecticut is providing and amplifying opportunities for the state’s hidden talent. 

“Talent around the state and beyond is widely distributed,” said Gov. Ned Lamont. 

“But opportunity, not so much. And you have to go out and give people that opportunity.”

A recent Dalio Education report showed there are currently 119,000 disconnected youth between the ages of 14-26 in Connecticut.

“Workforce really is key to our economic future,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.

“Far too many students, especially those from underserved backgrounds, do not yet have a clearer understanding of their career opportunities,” said Dr. Ellen Solek, executive director of the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, as she introduced a panel discussion on career pathways. 

Adhlere Coffy, who leads Dalio Education’s Connecticut Opportunity Project, moderated the discussion with Nuvance Health’s Vilma Cuevas, Domus’ Julie DeGennaro, Pratt & Whitney’s David Golfin, and Travelers’ Tara Spain. 

Coffy said that 50,000 disconnected young people have the qualifications and suitability to enter the workforce with “appropriate supports.”

“How do we get those young people the appropriate supports to help them into a position to seize those job opportunities here in Connecticut?” he asked the panel.

Supporting Students

The panelists highlighted programs and partnerships like the Travelers EDGE program that supports students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“A lot of students did not have a clear pathway into our industry,” said Spain.

“And so we wanted to make sure that we were able to support students on their journey through college.”

Golfin spoke about similar programs at Pratt & Whitney, where the jet engine manufacturer collaborates with outside partners like the University of Connecticut. 

“It’s all about finding the students that might not have otherwise considered a career in engineering, showing them how rewarding it can be and how accessible it can be, and giving them role models and then support as they transition into college,” he said. 

DeGennaro noted that these kinds of programs help prepare students to enter the workforce. 

“Sometimes we think about work as the end goal,” she said. “We think about work as a skill that needs to be developed. In order to get ready to work, you’d have to practice work.”

‘Work Is Dignity’

For people from nontraditional populations and communities, getting an opportunity for a career pathway can provide a sense of dignity. 

“When we think about work, it’s so much more than a job,” said ReadyCT executive director Shannon Marimón.

“It is tied up in everything that we do as individuals and as a collective society,”

Marimón moderated a discussion featuring Capital Workforce Partners’ Tahari Austin, Yale New Haven Health’s Judith Hahn, Charter Oak State College’s Nancy Taylor, and Manufacturing Alliance Service Corporation’s Cyndi Zoldi. 

Marimón said too often, barriers keep people from being able to access work or education and training opportunities.

“We want to spotlight examples of strategies that are deeply connected to those non-traditional populations looking for access to those opportunities,” she said. 

Taylor highlighted Charter Oak’s program providing training and support to unemployed and underemployed individuals in healthcare revenue cycle management.

“How can you take people who are currently outside of these careers, maybe they’re outside of the workforce entirely, but with a few support services, we can make them incredibly successful,” she said.

Austin noted that Capital Workforce Partners’ BEST Chance Partnership has helped hundreds of returning citizens find meaningful employment. 

“Work is dignity,” she said. “And so just being able to put people’s lives back together, it’s kind of what our program does.”

Success After Failure

“People really want to see you do something with your life,” said DomusWorks’ Charles Razor. “People want to see you do the right thing, people want to see you win.”

Razor took part in a conversation with others who have found success through workforce development programs.

He shared his story of getting an opportunity at DomusWorks as a returning citizen. 

“We need more stories like this.” Education commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, Quinnipiac University’s Damaly Mendez, University of Connecticut’s Jadon Gomez-Stafford, Travelers’ Jah’shawn Vanholten, DomusWorks’ Charles Razor, and Westminster Tool’s Will Migliaccio.

He said he tries to use his experiences to help others. 

“I know how hard it feels to succeed after you fail,” he said.

“And I’d rather my peers and the youth see somebody who’s been in their shoes actually trying to succeed and doing the right thing.”

Razor was joined on the panel by Travelers’ Jah’shawn Vanholten, University of Connecticut student Jadon Gomez-Stafford, Quinnipiac University student Damaly Mendez, and Westminster Tool’s Will Migliaccio.

Opening Doors

“A lot of times it’s hard to find what avenue, what door you’re supposed to walk in,” said Vanholten, who went through the EDGE program. 

“A lot of times you don’t know what opportunity is open to you.”

Migliaccio said got his opportunity at Westminster through a Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative program at Quinebaug Valley Community College. 

“I know how hard it feels to succeed after you fail.”

DomusWorks’ Charles Razor

“If school is just not for you, the trades could very well be for you,” he said. “Everyone’s different, that could be your path.”

“It’s important that we’re listening, that we’re learning from them,” said Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, who moderated the discussion. 

“What can we do better? What are we doing well and is going to feed their passion?

“This should not be the end of the day, but the beginning. Because we need more stories like this.”

The 2024 Connecticut Workforce Summit was a collaboration between CBIA, the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy, Governor’s Workforce Council, ReadyCT, Social Venture Partners Connecticut, Connecticut Department of Administrative Services, Connecticut Department of Labor, Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, State Department of Education, and the Regional Workforce Development Boards, and made possible through the generous support of General Dynamics Electric Boat, with additional support from Dalio Education, Capital Workforce Partners, Wells Fargo, and Tunxis Community College.


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