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Workforce Alliance’s training program aims to fill manufacturing sector’s need for workers


workforce allianceWith the Connecticut Business and Industry Association estimating that the state is facing a shortfall of some 13,000 workers in its manufacturing sector, Workforce Alliance has stepped up to the plate with a new education and training program that it believes could have a significant effect.

Announced in November, Skill Up for Manufacturing is a free five-week training and job-placement program open to high school graduates and Connecticut residents 18 years of age or older who are underemployed or unemployed.

New Haven-based Workforce Alliance, a job-placement service that also offers employers screening, recruiting and training assistance, based Skill Up on the model of the Eastern CT Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative. That program has placed more than 1,000 people into manufacturing jobs over the past three years, resulting in approximately $37 million in direct annual wages and roughly $38 million in indirect annual wages. Seventy-eight percent of those placed in Eastern CT had no prior manufacturing experience.

“We met with manufacturers of all sizes to determine what the fundamental elements were that we could help train people for,” said Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano. The organization interviewed employers of 10 to 20 people all the way up to Groton’s Electric Boat (EB), the primary builder of submarines for the U.S. Navy, which employs some 14,000 people.

The resulting curriculum includes basic trade knowledge, workplace skills and production readiness including shop math fundamentals and semi-precise/precise measurement, he said.

The five-week course (six hours a day, five days a week) can be particularly attractive to jobseekers who may not have the time or financial means of spending eight or nine months at a school gaining similar knowledge and abilities, Villano said. “The companies we work with understand that there will be some on-the-job training necessary,” beyond what would be required for any new hire, he said.

“And it beats trying to ramp up with temps,” he added, noting that EB spends an estimated $100,000 annually on temp workers. Support services are also available to participants while in classroom training, including travel reimbursement, daycare assistance and required books, tools and clothing. In addition, a cash stipend is awarded to participants for successful completion of training benchmarks.

Limited to classes of 20, the next session runs from June 17 to July 22 at Gateway Community College in New Haven followed by one at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown from July 8 to Aug. 9. Villano said roughly 100 people have been applying for the sessions. Further expansion of Skill Up is expected to take place this year at other schools, possibly including Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Workforce Alliance continues to work with that school’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, with a goal of placing 100 percent of its graduates with area manufacturers.

Of the 39 people who graduated from Gateway’s two previous Skill Up courses — one dropped out every one of them has had at least one job offer, many even prior to graduation,” Villano said. He estimated that as many as 18 have accepted a position, while others are still weighing where they want to go. “It depends in part on the employer’s geographic location and what they offer as a starting salary,” he noted.

Additional units within the five-week course can be added on a customized basis for some employers, like Electric Boat and East Hartford aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, Villano added. “The last time I checked, Electric Boat was using 551 subcontractors, mostly in Connecticut, and Pratt has about 100. There are a lot of options for our graduates.” Villano said manufacturers are “excited” about Skill Up’s potential. “A lot of these companies are coming to realize that they need to play a bigger role and be more active in developing their workforce than they have in the past,” he said.

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