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.

 NEW HAVEN — U.S. Sen. Richard C. Blumenthal traveled to Gateway Community College November 14 to announce elements of his Pathways Back to Work Act, a bill he introduced which he says will offer both relief and training programs to individuals seeking work. The legislation would make $5 million available for a fund aimed at immediately creating jobs for unemployed adults; provide $1.5 billion for summer and year-round work for youth; and establish a $1.5 billion competitive grant program for businesses and agencies that offer work-related education and training programs for the unemployed. Calling long-term unemployment “a persistent problem that harms the middle class and economy as a whole,” Blumenthal said in a release that the bill will empower families and individuals in Connecticut by providing the skills and opportunities necessary to reconnect them with the workforce.

 HARTFORD — A new law mandating electronic filing of state-required annual business reports will become effective January 1. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill says eliminating the paper filing option will make business registration for entrepreneurs easier and result in “significant savings for taxpayer” by reducing the need for large amounts of paper. Additional reasons cited for the procedural change include shorter processing time and better customer service. The legislation passed both the state House of Representatives and Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in July.

 NEWINGTON — Commuters who get to work via state Department of Transportation-operated buses or trains won’t have to worry about cuts in service, which the department had considered. Workers will, however, be faced with what DOT calls “modest” fare increases come January 1, and with incremental increases occurring annually over several years. They’re needed to help address escalating operating costs, according to DOT. While fares have remained steady since 2005, operating expenses have grown by 12 percent because of inflation, says DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker. For specifics about the new fares visit  ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?A=1373&Q=487680 and scroll down to and click “New Fares” on the left near the bottom of the page.

 WETHERSFIELD — Hurricane Irene might have thrashed parts of the state, but needed restoration work after the storm is responsible for at least part of October’s improved labor statistics, according to Andy Condon, director of the state Department of Labor’s Office of Research. And because the figures were distorted by the natural disaster, the month’s lower unemployment rate and job gains could be fleeting, Condon cautions. “[T]he employment sectors that appear most responsible for October’s job growth seem to be related to demand for repairs driven by Hurricane Irene,” said Condon. “The strongest increases came from construction, temporary employment services, and services to buildings & dwellings. We would expect this type of job growth to be temporary.” The professional and business services sector added 3,000 jobs in October, construction added 1,500, the education and health services sector was boosted by 900 positions, as was the government sector, and 400 “other services” jobs were added. Construction had the highest proportional increase, with 3.1 percent. The total number of added non-farm jobs in October was 6,500, or 0.4 percent. Unemployment dropped to 8.7 percent, compared with 8.9 percent the previous month. The figures reflect a positive direction for Connecticut employment statistics for the second consecutive month. 

 The announced merger of Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) and the Hospital of Saint Raphael (HSR) will have positive results for the local community, helping to lower costs and improve efficiency, according to one expert in the field.

“By forming a [consolidated] health-care system, you’re decreasing layers of bureaucracy, increasing economies of scale and decreasing administrative costs,” says Angela Mattie, associate professor of management at Quinnipiac University’s School of Business.

What’s more, such mergers are a trend that will likely continue, Mattie says.

“This type of corporate model you will see moving forward,” says Mattie, who specializes in health-care management. She cites recent legislative developments for helping to create a business climate that encourages the trend.

“The new health-care reform legislation calls for development of acceptable organizations,” she notes, “that evaluate and care for patients from start to finish.” At the same time, she says, facilities are experiencing increasing costs for technology and other care-delivery requirements.

The definitive agreement between the two hospitals delineates that YNHH will purchase HSR assets and address its liabilities, in addition to other stipulations, according to a YNHH release. The agreement also states that HSR will continue to provide health care in accordance with the religious and ethical directives under which the hospital was founded. The 966-bed YNHH and 511-bed HSR will operate under one umbrella, and YNHH will invest in structural and clinical improvements to the HSR campus of the integrated facility.

As for those who say the merger thwarts competition, Mattie dismisses that argument.

“Yale and Saint Raphael’s to some extent served different populations,” she says, adding, “This merger more than makes up for any competition that may have occurred in terms of delivering value to the community.”

A similar merger recently occurred in Waterbury, with Waterbury Hospital joining Plano, Texas-based LHP Hospital Group Inc., and Saint Mary’s Health System Inc. in a joint venture. Plans call for construction of a $400 million medical center that would replace both of the aging Brass City hospitals.

“The [merger] trend is not only a national trend, but now it’s endemic to Connecticut,” says Mattie, noting that YNHH’s reach already had expanded to locations such as Greenwich and Bridgeport after the Yale New Haven Health System acquired hospitals in those communities.

“I think in terms of value to the community,” Mattie emphasizes. “The merger between the Hospital of Saint Raphael and Yale-New Haven Hospital will provide more value. The less you add complexity and cost to the system, the more you can allocate to patient care.”

 BRIDGEPORT — An estimated 100 jobs will be created within the next five years as a result of Columbia Elevator’s relocation to Bridgeport, according to Mayor Bill Finch’s office. The mayor was joined by Gov. Dannel Malloy and other officials last month for a public celebration of the move to an expanded facility at 380 Horace Street. Columbia Elevator previously was located in Port Chester, N.Y. The company produces elevator doors, cabs and entrances. Federal, state and local financial assistance for environmental remediation at the site and property tax abatement helped spur the move.