Schools, business focus on training workforce

An advisory group including representatives of the state technical high school system, manufacturing companies and the local workforce training board will meet Tuesday to talk about what companies need and how the state high school and college systems can train that workforce.

Tuesday's discussion, which is informal, will focus on how to improve welding and metal fabrication training, said John Beauregard, executive director of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board.

Ray Coombs, president of the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, a collaboration of 27 companies in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, also said the group will discuss a potential new program at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton, which previously offered welding and metal fabrication.

That program ended about 13 years ago, said John Murphy, the education consultant who oversees manufacturing skills for the Connecticut Technical High School System.

Grasso Tech Principal Patricia Feeney said the school is in preliminary discussions with industry representatives to develop a program for adults in the evenings, possibly by late spring or early fall of 2014.

The school then hopes to develop a high school-level program.

Beauregard said the board wants to help businesses that boost economic growth. "We're looking for a bigger bang for the buck," he said.

Murphy said, "We want to do this right. We want to put together a plan that's sustainable."

The Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance started in northeastern Connecticut and worked for about 10 years with colleges and trade schools in that region. The alliance, previously called the Quinebaug Manufacturing Institute, began adding companies from southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island in February, and changed its name in May, Coombs said.

Robert Hamilton, spokesman for Electric Boat, said EB will need manufacturing employees well into the future.

"We support any initiative that would improve technical skills and in particular, manufacturing skills in students, because we're going to need to be hiring trades people over the next several years," he said.

In January, Electric Boat President Kevin J. Poitras said at a legislative breakfast that the company planned to hire about 500 people per year through 2020, mainly to replace workers who leave or retire, and to maintain a workforce of about 12,000. Of the 500, about 100 per year would be in the trades in Groton, Hamilton said.

He said the demand for skilled tradesmen would increase as the company begins building ships in 2021 to replace the Ohio class ballistic missile submarines.

Coombs said that in addition to Electric Boat, Eastern Connecticut is home to 60 small companies with 10 employees or fewer who work in welding and metal fabrication.

Meanwhile, Beauregard said more people are walking into its career centers in Norwich, New London, Danielson and Willimantic than did a year ago.

The centers see about 14,000 people a year and look at data in 12-month increments. Traffic through the work centers rose 7 percent in the period between May 2012 and May 2013.

The centers offer career counseling along with 5,000 free, online courses that potential employees may then test for at a community college to obtain college credit.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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