WOODBRIDGE — The often-held perception that manufacturing work environments are characterized by adjectives such as dirty, grimy and sweaty persists even into the 21st-century, say labor experts.
But many modern manufacturing employees operate in a highly technological, computer-based workplace where grease and grime are mere memories of a bygone era.
In a state where job shortage has been a primary focus, the dearth of qualified workers in the state’s manufacturing industry is a major issue that needs to be addressed, says Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) Commissioner Catherine Smith.
“There are great alternatives right now if [job-seekers] are willing to work for a manufacturer,” says Smith. She adds that nowadays many machines are operated via computer instead of manually, and jobs in the manufacturing industry can command annual salaries of up to $100,000.
“These are good jobs,” she says. “We really want to get the word out.”
Getting the word out about the hundreds of available manufacturing jobs in Connecticut is one thing. Finding workers with the necessary high-tech qualifications is another.
“Many companies would like to hire people, but they can’t find people with the skills they need,” says Jerry Clupper, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturers Association. “What a manufacturer wants is a person who can walk in and do the job that’s available.”
Today’s workers must be proficient in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, as well as have basic knowledge of the industry, Clupper notes.
“They have to be able to speak the language. If you don’t know what lean manufacturing is, I can’t use you. It’s the package that’s lacking. The range of skills they need is diverse.”
The state’s new “jobs” bill, signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on October 27, may help, Clupper says. He and other NHMA members worked with the governor and Smith on manufacturing job-readiness elements of the bill.
The legislation attempts to address the state’s manufacturing industry worker shortage through initiatives that include vocational-technical school curriculum enhancements, increased educational-institution accountability, and subsidies to companies for new-hire salaries and training.
“It’s a start,” says Clupper. “It depends on how it’s going to be implemented.”
Educating school guidance counselors and parents as well as students is key, he says. Realizing that perceptions of manufacturing environments as “dirty, dark and dangerous” are outmoded will help increase the number of Connecticut residents seeking and preparing for manufacturing careers, says Clupper.