Workforce Development – What’s Next?

Workforce Development – What’s Next?

By: Dean Simmons

You’ve been hearing the term “Workforce Development” for a while now. This is largely in response to the skilled labor shortage affecting a majority of industries in the United States and worldwide. Connecticut is no different. And like other parts of the country, our state is facing an aging population in addition to a lack of skilled workers.

Workforce development can be broadly defined as initiatives that educate and train individuals to meet the needs of current and future business and industry. And there’s no denying there’s a huge need for individuals to fill available positions across the country.

In the manufacturing sector, many companies are faced with a workforce who are at or nearing retirement. These companies are also competing with other businesses trying to attract younger workers who have an abundance of opportunities across a wide spectrum of industries.

It Starts with Training

An overarching issue in recruiting younger workers to manufacturing is their lack of skilled, applicable knowledge. That’s where training can bridge the gap between being qualified and not having the necessary experience.

To help mitigate the labor shortage issue facing manufacturers and other industries, in August 2022 the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy launched a $70 million job training program called CareerConneCT to help fill the dozens of skilled job openings in the state.

An online portal is available to register for job skills training in manufacturing, health care, IT and several other careers, all at no cost thanks to funding from federal pandemic relief dollars. CareerConneCT offers industry-recognized credentials with programs taking anywhere from five to 12 weeks for completion.

Connecticut chief workforce officer Dr. Kelli Vallieres indicated, “This is more than job training, this is redesigning the way we approach workforce development. The guiding principles of CareerConneCT are to build an inclusive, collaborative, and coordinated workforce system.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont added, “This is an opportunity for those who are unemployed or underemployed to receive no-cost training in an in-demand field and get connected directly to an employer that is looking to fill jobs.”

The Generation Z Factor

Those who were born between 1997 and 2010 are generally defined as Generation Z. They are considered the digital generation, having grown up with technology, the internet and social media.

It may seem logical to assume that these digitally sophisticated young individuals would enjoy working with advanced technologies found at many manufacturers. Layer that thinking with tuition-free instruction for manufacturing jobs and the argument could be made that there may be greater interest among this group for technologically advanced careers.

For Generation Z to consider working for a manufacturer, they will need to be made aware of the many opportunities available to them in the field and advised that the jobs pay well. The industry as a whole will also need to overcome the misperception that manufacturing jobs are dirty and dangerous places to work, which reflect a bygone era.

Automation and Technology 

Companies are constantly striving to stay competitive but it can be challenging when they can’t find the talented workers they need.

The introduction of automation and new technology is often cited as a way to combat the ongoing retirement of the aging workforce and the low numbers of people seeking to enter the manufacturing field.

Automation can help, although not necessarily by replacing people, but by improving the productivity of current workers. Automation can augment the ability of the production line team to do their jobs more effectively.

The use of robots and cobots (collaborative robots) that work alongside people can create new opportunities for workers, streamline productivity, control quality, and attract employees who enjoy working with these advanced technologies. 

The Multiplier Effect

One of the reasons workforce development is so important is its impact on the overall economy. Because manufacturing has so many connections with other sectors in the community, its production output stimulates more economic activity across a wide swath of businesses than any other industry.

Given manufacturing’s broad and dynamic effect on other business sectors, ensuring a pipeline of qualified, skilled workers is of paramount importance not only to individual companies but also to the health of our economy.

With greater emphasis on providing education and training programs to funnel Connecticut workers into manufacturing jobs, sustaining the economic growth of the state is achievable, enabling its residents and businesses to thrive and prosper.