Innovation Destination Hartford visited the Goodwin College Advanced Manufacturing Center and spoke with the team about the college’s initiative to foster manufacturing opportunities in Connecticut.

NAN PRICE: What are your roles here at the Advanced Manufacturing Center?

CLIFFORD THERMER: I’m Assistant Vice President for Strategy & Business Development and Department Chair, Business, Management and Advanced Manufacturing.

KATHLEEN BOLDUC: I’m the Director, Business and Advanced Manufacturing.

NAN: Give me a little background.

CLIFF: About five years ago, the gap in the manufacturing workforce had become more evident. Jobs weren’t being filled, there weren’t enough skilled workers, and manufacturers were having a tough time expanding and keeping up with the need.

Congressman Larson was trying to figure out how to fill the gap. He met with Goodwin President Mark Scheinberg and some folks from Pratt & Whitney to talk about developing an initiative.

We interviewed dozens of area manufacturers to determine their needs and projections. The most-needed jobs were in Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machining, supply chain logistics, quality, and welding.

NAN: How is Goodwin College helping to meet those needs?

CLIFF: We’ve had a manufacturing program for about four years here. In addition to skill-based training certificates in CNC machining, supply chain and logistics, quality inspections, and welding, we also offer a Bachelor of Manufacturing Management because, while the workforce is aging, so too is the apex of a lot of these companies. And they need to be doing succession planning to figure out how to prepare mid-management folks for that next level.

And Connecticut still has a lot of underkilled individuals. We have returned veterans and career changers. Many people aren’t going to retire at 55/60. They’re going to work on. Or they may have left one career, but they want to have another viable career. There’s an opportunity for that workforce that’s still looking for employment.

While the market and economy has gotten somewhat better, and there are available workers, there aren’t as many as there were.

The other component of this is: What about our kids in middle school and then high school? What are they doing to plan for their future? And, what about the next generation?

Our kids are leaving Connecticut. People come to Connecticut to be educated, but then they leave. So, how do we keep our workforce? We need to inspire the next generation to consider manufacturing.

Many kids are trained to think about going straight to college after high school. Well, college may not be for everybody right away. There are career opportunities in manufacturing, and then you can always go back to school.

NAN: How are you reaching those students?

CLIFF: That’s an excellent question. We have a couple of initiatives. One is our manufacturing and mobile program. We have a 44ft advanced manufacturing mobile classroom in a trailer that fits about 14 students. We visit middle schools and high schools, we do some of that in concert with the Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. (CTDIDI) program offered through Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT).

Students have to know more about manufacturing. These aren’t just assembly jobs. Many manufacturing jobs are more high-tech. So, we talk to students about potential careers in manufacturing and then we bring them on the trailer and let them touch and see different equipment. We have a whole host of quality equipment demonstrations for pneumatics, electronics, microscopes, and all kinds of measuring devices, including 3D printers, desktop CNC machines, laser and vinyl. It sounds like a lot, and it is.

NAN: How does the Advanced Manufacturing Center encourage college-age students?

CLIFF: We have a couple of good things going on with that. With the full-time manufacturing program we offer for machine operators, companies will come in and talk to all the students at the beginning of the training. The recruitment of these students for employment begins right then. Students see there are real companies with real job opportunities to compete for and that’s a motivating factor for students.

We’re also focusing on a Learn to Work career pathway right now. It’s a pre-apprenticeship model where a company will meet with students during the first third or quarter of the program. The students will start to interview and develop skills and hopefully get placed with a manufacturer, where they’ll spend some time during the week actually working in a machine shop. They’re getting paid for their pre-apprenticeship experience while they’re going to school. And then hopefully there’s a job at the end of that.

Not all our students get placed, but we’re working on expanding to more manufacturers. This was an initiative started by EDAC Technologies Corporation in Connecticut. Dave Russel heads up this initiative at EDAC. We now have a few other partners we’re working with.

EDAC has a brilliant model for recruiting and finding folks. It’s a different version of a pre-apprenticeship, but it’s very effective. I said this is something we can expand.

We’re not having problems getting our students placed after they complete training. That’s the good news. The problem is, there aren’t enough students expressing interest in manufacturing careers to meet the growing demand for skilled workers.

But, even if every community college that offered manufacturing was full, every technical state high school was full, if Goodwin College was full, we still don’t have enough workers to meet the need for manufacturing that Connecticut has right now.

We have about 165,000 manufacturing jobs in Connecticut. Manufacturing is going to continue to be strong in Connecticut because of the diversity of the things we make here.

NAN: How do you get the word out about the availability of these programs?

CLIFF: We’re constantly talking to media and speaking with students and guidance counselors. The state has invested greatly in manufacturing at the community college level. They’ve been generous working with us and other initiatives.

The industry is trying to get the word out there. It can’t grow if there aren’t people to make the parts that need to be made and to be the makers. So, there’s a groundswell of energy around trying to not only get the word out, but to encourage people to consider manufacturing as a career.

NAN: Any challenges with the programs?

CLIFF: One of our greatest challenges right now is, not only do we need the students, but we also need teachers and faculty. At the college level, you need a master’s degree to teach courses. But, there are a lot of opportunities for experienced machine operators who want to work as lab technicians with us or work with our students or faculty and pass on their knowledge. We need these people.

NAN: How is Goodwin College collaborating and developing partnerships? That obviously helps spread the message and engage the community.

KATE: We reach out to potential partners and explain what we’re looking for regarding opportunities for our students—we want to ensure our students are meeting their needs. It’s an alternative way of recruiting.

Instead of companies getting people off the street and giving them 90 days probation to see whether not they fit, they can test them out right here. And we can mentor the student and interact with the partners to monitor the student’s progress in the program.

At the end of the program, there’s not a requirement that the student is hired, but the likelihood is, if they’re apprenticing at the same company until the end of their program and they’re doing well, they are offered a full-time position.

Once they get hired, many of the partners have agreed to offset to help pay off debt the student has incurred to participate in our certification. This is beyond what they might get in a grant. If they incur debt or student loans, the company will help pay that off.

It’s also a retention strategy for the company, because they now have a brand-new, CNC-certified employee who could be very attractive to other companies with their certification. So, companies are taking a longer-term and more holistic view—and we think that is wonderful.

It’s not only good for the companies as far as retention, it’s also good for the students. It basically closes the gap. We have about five partners in the lineup in manufacturing. We want to engage with more. So far, the companies have been very satisfied with the process.

CLIFF: And that model makes so much sense right now in 2018. It’s a model Kate has brought into the business and insurance world. We’re working with some companies to do the same kind of model with quality and with the supply chain and logistics. That’s among the many things Kate does here to build partnerships and build those pathways to employment.

What does it cost for a company to find one person? When you start breaking it down cost, it’s incredibly expensive to find somebody, select them, onboard them, train them, and get them to that point before you realize this is a viable person and a good employee. Then, they could always leave. With a formed partnership, the company is meeting those people up front. That makes more sense.

KATE: And the students/employees are already culturally ingrained by the time they get hired for full-time employment. They are culturally competent in that organization.

CLIFF: If it works there, why wouldn’t it work in other industries? Well, it does. That’s the exact strategy we are using and Kate’s been creating.

NAN: How do manufacturing careers benefit the economy here in Connecticut?

CLIFF: Goodwin College provides career opportunities. What if you had a skill set where you could actually get a good-paying job and college credits at the same time? That is meeting the needs of both worlds.

We have several specialized, hand-on training programs that are very engaging. It’s a short-term certificate: 22.5 weeks, 37 college credits and you’re employed in a good-paying job. You can then return to school. Now you’re earning to learn. You’re in a paying job. And, a lot of companies have tuition reimbursement to help advance students’ college degrees.

We enable people to leave a lower paying service-type or retail type job to learn a higher skill set. It changes their personal economy, the economy of their family, their community, and ultimately the state. And that helps everybody.

There are huge opportunities in Connecticut no one knows about. We need to get the word out. Manufacturing is a opportunity for Connecticut to turn around.

Imagine if we had another 100,000 manufacturing jobs in Connecticut? And the average pay and manufacturing is $65,000 to $75,000. What would that mean for the Connecticut economy and every community where people are now buying houses, paying taxes, engaging in the economy and not having to leave Connecticut? Imagine what that number would do in a state of 3.6 million people. Wow!

Why isn’t Connecticut on the forefront of these things? We have some of the best schools in the country. We have some of the best manufacturing opportunities in the country. It’s a big secret and we’ve got to let our kids know.

Folks who are tired of the career they’re in and want a different kind of job can take a 22.5-week course at Goodwin. Or, if you went to college and you’re not working the field you got a degree in—which is a lot of college graduates—you can think about manufacturing. You don’t have to get another college degree. With our certificate, the next thing you know, you’re in a whole new career with a whole new trajectory in Connecticut.

There are huge opportunities for manufacturing skill sets right now. That’s why we got into it. We got into it to make a difference in the state of Connecticut.

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