Workforce Development: The Student Perspective
Solving Connecticut’s workforce crisis will take a range of approaches and broad collaboration across business, government, education, and community organizations.
One of the key areas of focus is developing more meaningful opportunities and pathways for the next generation.
Creating career pathways in education was a central discussion at the April 21 Connecticut Workforce Summit.
The event—a collaboration between CBIA, the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, Governor’s Workforce Council, ReadyCT, and Social Venture Partners Connecticut—welcomed more than 430 business leaders, educators, community leaders, and policymakers.
“There’s increased awareness—particularly among key stakeholders—and a growing number of initiatives and programs, particularly those targeting skills development and aligning education curricula with the needs of our modern economy,” CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said.
Pathways to Opportunity
One of the featured panels brought together a group of high school and community college students with Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary Luke Rhine.
“Our goal is to be able to understand models that we have underway and make them available to all our students in the state,” said Connecticut State Department of Education commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, who introduced the panel.
Russell-Tucker noted the recent announcement that the state will spend $5.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds to grow dual credit offerings in high schools and expand pathways to post-secondary readiness.
Three of the students on the panel, Weaver High School’s Liberty Blanco, East Hartford High School’s Gabrielle Hendricks, and Hartford Public High School’s Bryan Ortiz, shared their experiences with the career pathway programs managed by CBIA affiliate ReadyCT.
The programs give students career-based learning, and connect the classroom to different industries.
Hendricks, who is part of the Allied Health Pathway at East Hartford High, said her program provided invaluable opportunities and education, including an internship with Hartford HealthCare.
“I would say this opportunity was a great opportunity for me because now I can see what it’s like working in healthcare,” she said.
“I gained a whole bunch of credentials, I’m able to use my experience. So being a part of this program and conducting my workplace learning was a good opportunity for me.”
Ortiz said his participation with ReadyCT helped fuel his interest in engineering through hands-on, real-world experiences.
“They helped place me in the engineering pathway at our school, and helped provide a lot of opportunities and internships,” he said.
“I think the biggest advantage is to learn new skills that you can use in the future,” added Blanco, who is part of the Journalism and Media Pathway at Weaver. “You could put out in any field that you do want for the future.”
Lamont highlighted the importance of students getting skills that can prepare them for the future.
“I love the fact that you’re able to dream and you’re getting the skills you need,” he said. “I would also experiment.
“You’re in a career path, you focus on what you want to do—journalism, healthcare, engineering—but you’re going to find that life maybe throws some curveballs and you take different directions.
“What I love is the fact that they have a chance to see what the jobs and skills are all about.”
The panel also focused on the valuable opportunities provided through the state’s community college system.
Northwestern Community College senior Luis Sánchez-Chiriboga and Julia Revellese, who attends Quinebaug Community College, shared insights about their experiences.
“I think it’s definitely important to hear the students you know, because they’re the ones that are going into the process, they’re the ones that are trying to learn, trying to find a way to achieve their goals,” said Sánchez-Chiriboga.
Sánchez-Chiriboga, who immigrated with his family from Ecuador, was the first of his family to go to college.
“At a young age, my parents decided to move to Connecticut,” he said. “I feel like my parents were just trying to provide us with better opportunities.”
Sánchez-Chiriboga credited his experience at Northwestern for the opportunity to start his higher education journey and his plans to get a degree in management information systems.
“I know that if I pursue my education, I have a better shot at upward mobility and I feel like that’s what everyone strives to get to,” he said.
Revellese, who is pursuing a career in education, also said she wouldn’t have the same opportunities without her community college experience and the support from her teachers and advisors.
“They’re invested in you and they want to see you succeed,” she said. “They give you the right pathways to branch out even while you’re still in your education, and that will help you transition into the workforce.”
She received funding for her education through the state’s PACT program.
“The funding that students are getting in community colleges, and just colleges and universities in general, will help them branch out once they’ve graduated,” she said.
Both Revellese and Sánchez-Chiriboga talked about the importance of ensuring education is connected to workforce development.
“I feel like they go hand in hand—without education, we can’t have a workforce, at least not a skilled workforce,” said Sánchez-Chiriboga.
“I think it’s really important to emphasize how we can provide people with more pathways to reach their goals.”
‘Need You Guys More Than Ever’
“Imagine how much further each of us would be in our lives in our careers if we had a jumpstart on work experience in our current field,” added Rhine, who moderated the panel.
“It’s a pretty immeasurable gift we can give the next generation, but it requires each and everyone of us to think differently about how we staff our companies and how we think about attracting our labor force.”
All of the students on the panel highlighted the need to fund the programs that provide career pathways in education—a message Lamont said he “got loud and clear.”
He called workforce one of the most important initiatives on his docket.
“We need you guys more than ever,” Lamont told the students. “There is a global search for talent out there. Everywhere I go young people are deciding where they want to be.
“I’m working with all the folks out here on workforce and we’re doing everything we can to make sure you realize this is a place of opportunity where you can achieve your dreams.
“And our job is to make sure you have the skills to get the job done.”
The 2023 Connecticut Workforce Summit was a collaboration between CBIA, Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, Governor’s Workforce Council, ReadyCT, and Social Venture Partners Connecticut and made possible through the generous support of CGI and KPMG with additional support from Wells Fargo.
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