Hiring 'skills gap' cited by manufacturers here

A new survey reveals concerns among Connecticut's manufacturing executives about a perceived "skills gap" between what young people are learning in school and the needs of the workplace.

"Connecticut manufacturing is ripe for significant expansion," according to the 2014 Survey of Connecticut Manufacturing Workforce Needs, released late last week. "But that will happen only if we boost our high-skill manufacturing workforce - a task made more challenging by an aging workforce,waning interest among young people in pursuing manufacturing careers and skill deficits and training needs of job candidates."

The survey indicated that more than half of manufacturing company executives believe overall employability and technical skills are lacking among recent hires or those seeking work. The basic skill most lacking in job seekers is math, cited by 52 percent of survey respondents as falling short of expectations.

Writing, reading, English and computer skills also were cited by about a quarter of respondents. The survey was published by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, the Connecticut Community Colleges' College of Technology's Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing and UIL Holdings Corp.

"Manufacturing is the single largest contributor to Connecticut's gross state product and employs 10 percent of the state's workforce," said CBIA economist Peter Gioia in a statement. "The challenge will be providing the skilled workforce that (employers) desperately need."

The skills that manufacturers most crave, in order of importance, were critical thinking and problem solving, engineering, robotics and automation, machine-tool programming, computer-assisted product design and technical writing and comprehension, according to the survey.

"Training is rarely offered in these areas: for the most part manufacturers expect the employees they hire to come to the job with these skills," according to the survey report.

Judith Resnick, executive director of CBIA's Education Foundation, said the state needs to address a shortage of in-state engineering and other related four-year math and technology degrees.

"We're starting to make good progress in developing a pipeline of entry-level manufacturing employees," Resnick said in a statement. "We need to make similar strides at this next level."

The report noted that Connecticut's 4,500 manufacturing firms employ 161,000 workers. They also pay nearly $14 billion in annual wages, with hourly pay averaging $22.83.

The report said manufacturers are gearing up for better times ahead, with 85 percent indicating they would be hiring primarily full-time workers by the end of next year. That's a major increase from the 30 percent who had similar hiring expectations when the last state manufacturing survey was conducted in 2011.

The hardest manufacturing jobs to fill were tool and die maker, CNC programmer, CAD/CAM technician, CNC machinist and engineer, according to the survey. According to projections, there will be 9,300 job openings statewide by the end of next year in the 14 categories most difficult to fill.

Survey responses totaled 246, or nearly 7 percent of the manufacturing leaders who received email requests. The survey margin of error was 6.4 percent.

l.howard@theday.com

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