Connecticut’s manufacturing workforce is at a critical juncture. With a median age now over 40 years, the manufacturing sector is and will be experiencing the effects of an aging population and need to hire skilled workers.

2011manufacturingworkforceAnd despite the continued slow economic recovery in the state, the strength of the manufacturing sector and exports will lead to increased hiring.

Success will hinge upon hiring well-qualified workers to fill the needed positions, but manufacturers are concerned about finding and attracting skilled labor. They are also worried about the lack of basic math, writing, and employability skills of entry-level employees and soft leadership skills of mid-level managers.

Those are some of the key findings of the 2011 CBIA Connecticut Manufacturing Workforce Survey commissioned by the Connecticut Community Colleges’ College of Technology’s Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing (RCNGM), which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

On average, manufacturers surveyed expect their workforce to grow by 3 percent to 6 percent over the next five years.

Nearly a third (30 percent) plan to hire full-time employees, 6 percent plan to hire part-time workers, and 13 percent plan to hire temporary workers by the end of the year. But they expressed concerns about finding and attracting skilled labor.

The top five most difficult positions to fill:

  • CNC programmers (87 percent)
  • Tool and die makers (85 percent)
  • CNC machinists (79 percent)
  • CAD/CAM technicians (78 percent)
  • Engineers (64 percent)

“In terms of workforce development, manufacturers are at a critical juncture,” says Judith K. Resnick, executive director of CBIA’s Education Foundation.

“They face an exodus of mid- and senior-level employees who will take with them longstanding institutional knowledge and experience; at the same time, many incoming workers do not appear to have critical basic employability skills to replace them.

"It is imperative that business and education come together to enhance manufacturing education and training programs so that graduates are better prepared for current and future jobs. Doing so presents a wonderful opportunity to infuse programs with management and leadership skills needed for advancement.”

The vast majority of manufacturers hire from within Connecticut. More than half (51 percent) hired graduates from Connecticut technical high schools, and 44 percent from traditional high schools. Over 30 percent also reported hiring from community colleges—both certificate-program graduates (33 percent) and associate-degree graduates (32 percent). Thirty-one percent report hiring graduates from the state university system.

These employers are considerably more satisfied with graduates of technical high schools (61 percent) versus graduates of traditional high schools (28 percent).

Eighty percent of manufacturers are most satisfied with graduates of four-year private colleges and universities, followed by graduates of the state university system (78 percent), private occupational schools (77 percent), community colleges (associate degree—76 percent), and major universities (74 percent).

“The survey underscores the value higher education is providing in preparing the 21st century workforce in Connecticut,” says Karen Wosczyna-Birch, executive director of RCNGM. “At the community college level, the satisfaction levels rival that of our four-year institutions. Our goal remains to continue engaging and motivating the next generation of workers to pursue careers in manufacturing while ensuring they have the skill sets needed to be successful.”

More than a third (39 percent) of respondents said entry-level employees lack employability skills such as punctuality and work ethic, while another 34 percent cited a lack of basic skills, including math and reading. Manufacturers have a slightly more positive view of their mid-level employees but cite advanced problem-solving, scientific, and computer skills (23 percent) and leadership skills (22 percent) as most lacking.

“Payroll remains the largest cost of doing business for American manufacturers, making it imperative that our workforces are the most capable and highly skilled in the world,” says James. F. Kask, CPA, partner, J.H. Cohn LLP.  “The quality of our workforce is what sets us apart from the competition, and successful manufacturers will continue to enjoy the benefits of workforce reinvestment. As global labor costs rise, it only underscores the need to reinforce the talent and benefit companies will realize from working with American companies instead of going overseas.”

The survey, sponsored by RCNGM and J.H. Cohn LLP, was conducted by CBIA in mid-April to early May 2011. A total of 273 manufactures responded, for a 23 percent response rate and a margin of error of +/- 6 percent.