Connecticut’s Governor has staked a lot on reforming the state’s educational system. And a large part of the motivation is to provide a workforce literate in science, technology, engineering and math – the STEM skills. But the pace of technological change is getting quicker every year, and figuring out how to train workers for the high value industries of the 21st century is ever more challenging. This week on the business report we begin a series of reports on three industries vital to Connecticut’s future, and ask whether the state is living up to its reputation for a superior workforce. WNPR’s Harriet Jones begins with a look at advanced manufacturing.
Adchem Manufacturing Technologies in Manchester is a successful and growing aerospace parts maker. It’s a supplier to Pratt & Whitney, and as commercial airlines demand new technology times are good for the industry. But for one problem.
“Frankly, the workforce. There’s a gap. We’re feeling it.”
That’s Adchem’s president Michael Polo. He says many of his most skilled machinists are in their fifties and sixties and getting ready to retire, a phenomenon so widespread in Connecticut it’s been dubbed the "silver tsunami." But there’s a dearth of young people with the right skills to replace them.
“It’s become an Achilles heel to the point we are now sending parts out of state to get processed. We are looking out of state for both resources and facilities and things like that.”
Polo is one of a growing number of Connecticut manufacturers who are personally involved in trying to solve the workforce gap. He’s frequently consulted by state legislators on the issue. But as yet, the state lacks an overarching strategy to deal with the problem. Sue Palisano is head of training for the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology.
“Right now we’re caught in, we’ve called it a chicken and egg situation, where our educators are waiting for manufacturers and employers to ask for it, and manufacturers and employers are waiting for our education system to provide them with a workforce, and no-one really wants to jump into the pool first.”
This lack of coordination has not gone unnoticed by the current administration.
“One of the most disturbing things that I found out about higher education in Connecticut was when I went to visit one of our community colleges up in Enfield – Asnuntuck.”
Governor Dannel Malloy.
“And I specifically went to visit a program in precision manufacturing that has existed for 12 years and has had a 98 to 100 percent placement rate for ten years. We have this great program at one of our 12 community colleges: was not replicated at any other community college in the state. Not a one.”
Frank Gulluni runs that manufacturing program at Asnuntuck. He says if the state truly wants to meet its workforce challenges, Connecticut’s educational institutions have to completely change their mindset.
“I look at community colleges as a reflection of a community. And if a community is talking about the need for employees, whether it’s IT, whether it’s health careers, whether it’s manufacturing, I think we have a responsibility to respond. And you can’t do that in 15 hours a week, 32 weeks a year – it just doesn’t work.”
Gulluni is one of the people who’s been tasked with making it work – we’ll take a look at how he’s doing that, as our series on STEM education continues.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.