Workforce Development Woes Highlighted On Campaign Trail
MIDDLEFIELD, CT — A small plastics company has struggled to make its case to the state that it should invest in an injection molding workforce training program, but Monday it had an audience that included a gubernatorial candidate and a U.S. Senator.
David Parmelee, president of Wepco Plastics, Inc. a family-owned business with 27 employees, said there is the need for hundreds of thousands of trained employees for openings in the plastics industry in Connecticut, yet the Department of Labor and the Office of Policy and Management believes the number is closer to 13 and that’s why they can’t get a community college to develop a training program.
After its overtures to Middlesex Community College were rejected, the company got a group of 10 molders together to speak with Goodwin College, which is a private, nonprofit community college in East Hartford. They said they were also unable to convince them to develop a program, so they set out to develop their own.
Parmelee told Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Monday that the biggest concern for their business is workforce training .
Charles Daniels, chief financial officer for Wepco Plastics, Inc., said it’s also not easy navigating the grant and apprenticeship programs offered by the state.
So “we created our own program,” Daniels said.
It involves online courses, and on-the-job training and it takes four years to complete.
Parmelee said instead of finding an employee with the skills they need, they decided they would have to invest in people who had potential because they essentially realized that were searching for “unicorns.”
He said public officials need to understand there are thousands of other manufacturers in the state that need help finding qualified workers. It’s not just manufacturers like Electric Boat and Pratt & Whitney. Those are the big defense companies which have developed pipelines and relationships with community colleges to help develop their workforce.
There are about 13,600 job openings in Connecticut manufacturing, and even though the state has beefed up its community college training programs and increased its tax credits, there’s no way they will all be filled.
Connecticut is home to more than 4,000 manufacturers who employ 159,000 employees. That means that nearly one of every 10 Connecticut workers is employed in the manufacturing sector, but the demand for those skills continues to accelerate as many in the workforce are headed for retirement.
Lamont said as a former president and chairman of Lamont Digital Systems, the parent company of Campus Televideo, he can relate to Parmelee’s predicament regarding workforce issues.
“I’m at a business like this because this is the world that I come out of,” Lamont said Monday. “I’d be the first governor in generations who can talk Dave’s language when he talks about workforce, when he talks about training, when talks about just-in-time inventory, when he talks about equipment, when talks about the fact that you’ve got to do things faster. Connecticut has a bad case of the slows.”
Susan Bysiewicz, Lamont’s running mate, said “half the people in Connecticut work for small companies like this one.”
She said if a company like this succeeds then the state succeeds and that’s why they are listening.
But what could a governor do to help?
“I said eight years ago we’ve got to make big fundamental changes or the state’s going to be in the same mess in 2018 as it was in 2010 and I would have solved it,” Lamont said.
Over the past eight years, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Department of Economic and Community Development has borrowed about $1.8 billion for economic development investments.
Adjusted for inflation, the gross domestic product over the past seven years dropped 1.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
GDP is on its way back up this year, according to preliminary numbers, but Republicans say the investments have not performed as well as intended. At the same time, it’s hard to tell because the data isn’t good.
The Auditors of Public Accounts recently released a report that found tax credits, economic assistance programs like the Small Business Express program, and the Manufacturing Assistance Act have been underestimated or overestimated by tens of millions of dollars.
“Dan Malloy and the Democrats have been disastrous for our state economy,” Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said Monday. “One billion has been squandered by one of the worst performing economic development agencies in our history.”
Lamont will face Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski in November. Stefanowski was an executive for General Electric, UBS Investment Bank, and DFC Global, a parent company of pay day loan companies.
Stefanowski, according to Romano, will meet with all the other Republican candidates Tuesday for a strategy meeting.
Stefanowski has yet to hold any public events following his nomination last week.