Courtney, labor leaders sound off on cut in funding for apprenticeship programs

Groton — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, state and local labor leaders and representatives of Electric Boat and small business met here Friday to rail against a partisan bid to cut federal funding for apprenticeship programs, including one Electric Boat launched last December.

Despite President Donald Trump’s promise to support “jobs, jobs, jobs,” House Republicans passed a 2018 budget this week that “zeroes out” $95 million for apprenticeship programs and also cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for other workforce training and employment services.

Courtney, whose office organized Friday’s meeting at the Boilermakers’ union hall on Sacred Heart Drive, said he was “optimistic” the money will be restored as the budget process advances.

“It’s important that the external noise gets heard,” he said.

Electric Boat, bolstered by the Navy’s stepped-up demand for submarines, will need to hire as many as 15,000 workers over the next 10 years, Courtney said, adding that other manufacturers in the region and elsewhere in the state and across the nation also need skilled workers.

“Better skills equal better jobs and better wages,” he said.

Scott Jackson, commissioner of the state Department of Labor, said federal support for apprenticeship programs is critical to sustaining the state’s economic recovery. He said EB’s apprenticeship program already has resulted in 600 new hires at the company’s shipyard.

Maura Dunn, EB’s vice president of human resources, said such programs are the “gold standard” for workforce development.

“Without apprenticeships, we’re going to be in trouble,” said Bill Louis, president of the Marine Draftsmen’s Association, whose members work at EB.

The benefits of federal funding of apprenticeship programs is not limited to EB and such other Connecticut defense contractors as Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky, Courtney noted.

Since 2015, the state has received more than $7 million in federal grants aimed at jumpstarting apprenticeship programs in manufacturing, health care, insurance and other employment sectors. One such program, “Building Pathways for Women,” seeks to attract more women to manufacturing jobs.

Kelli Vallieres, president and chief executive officer of Sound Manufacturing, an Old Saybrook precision sheet metal fabricator, said her small business needs the skilled workers that apprenticeship programs produce. She said that during the defense-industry turndown of the 1990s, public school systems “mothballed” their industrial arts programs.

“People don’t even know manufacturing exists,” said Vallieres, who serves as president of the nonprofit Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance. “Ninety-eight percent of the apprenticeship graduates are hired.”

Mark Hill, the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board’s chief operating officer, said the "manufacturing pipeline," a pre-apprenticeship program that the EWIB helps sponsor, has served some 4,100 people in its first 18 months — more than eight times the number it expected to enroll.

Courtney’s colleague, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, also responded Friday to the cut in funding for apprenticeship programs during a visit to the Greater New Haven Building Trades.

“At a time when the economic security of working Americans is so vital, we cannot eliminate one of the most important tools we have to give people the skills they need to thrive in the workforce,” said DeLauro, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. “We need to enact policy that ensures that everyone can benefit from the economic recovery, and that everyone has the training they need to get good jobs with fair wages."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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