Connecticut's manufacturers expect to be doing lots of hiring in the next few years, but a recent survey shows they're worried about where all those new workers are going to come from.
The numbers alone in a new report from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association tell an interesting story. Almost 250 Connecticut manufacturers were asked about their hiring plans. Eighty-five percent of them expect to hire full-time employees by the end of next year. By contrast, when they were asked that same question in 2011, only 30 percent had said they were planning on hiring.
"There is a sea change going on," said CBIA's chief economist, Peter Gioia. Of those hiring companies, 22 percent expect to grow their workforce by more than five percent. Here's the problem, he said: "At the same period when there's going to be a ramp up in manufacturing, there's going to be a ramp up in retirements."
Companies are looking at not only hiring new workers, but replacing older ones. Despite high unemployment in this state, they're not sure the candidates are really out there.
Doug Johnson, Vice President of Operations at Marion Manufacturing in Cheshire, said, "If someone came to me today and said, 'I'll triple the size of your business, here's all of this work,' trust me, I would die trying to make it happen. It would be a challenge that I'm not sure we could fill those jobs quick enough."
Johnson was taking part in a panel to discuss the CBIA's findings. He described a problem that has companies, state officials, and educational institutions scrambling to come up with solutions in recent years.
For another panelist, Christine Benz of Trumpf, the difficulties are greatest in one particular area - what she calls mid level skills. "This is where candidates need more than a high school degree, but they don't necessarily need a four year college degree -- this is the area in between," said Benz. Trumpf has its North American headquarters and 700 employees in Farmington, but it's German owned, and Benz says providing industry specific training may be an area where the Germans have a thing or two to teach us. "What we do at Trumpf in North America is we look across the pond with envy, because over there companies are provided with a vast resource provided to them by apprenticeship programs. It's a century-old system that works very well." She said a well-functioning apprenticeship program guarantees companies competent workers and also allows many young people to bypass thousands of dollars in college debt.
It's a solution that's receiving more attention here. Connecticut recently increased its manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit.
CBIA's Judy Resnick said that after some false starts, the state is finally starting to get its act together to coordinate training opportunities and resources at its community colleges and technical high schools. "We've suffered a lot from turning on and off the spigot, but I think we're on a trajectory now that is entirely different, and that trajectory will end up in the right direction," she told the audience. She added the caveat that even if the training is available, young people must be still be persuaded to go into these careers in large numbers.
For some companies, though, the system is beginning to work, provided you know where to go. Rick Wheeler, president of Capewell Components in South Windsor, described recent successes in using targeted hiring and internships to find the right candidates. "CNC programmers, degreed engineers, they're not easy to get," he said. "Quality assurance people, good ones, [are] tough to get. We haven't had that real level of agitation, because we've worked so closely with the Connecticut educational system. So far, it's worked pretty well for us."
The survey describes creating career pipelines in advanced manufacturing as critical to the economic stability and growth of Connecticut.