Manufacturers in Southwest Connecticut are looking to hire skilled workers who have specialized training in areas such as welding or computerized numerical control, or CNC, operation.
That’s according to Cathy Awwad, executive director of the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board, who said she has teamed up with Naugatuck Valley Community College to develop and shift programs to quickly meet the demands of the local workforce in the college’s 22 city and town service area in Southwest Connecticut.
That was welcome news to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who met with Awwad and NVCC officials Monday morning to discuss ways in which the community college is trying to move students into the workforce. Blumenthal said a recent study from U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s fifth-Congressional District in Connecticut show that 89 percent of manufacturers surveyed say they need more skilled workers to fill jobs.
That is a void NVCC is determined to fill, said Sanda Palmer, Ph.D., NVCC’s dean of academic programs.
“We really meet the needs of the workforce,” she said. “As the needs of the workforce shift, our programs shift, so we really are very in touch with what’s going on in the labor market.”
Blumenthal saw proof of that on a tour of the Waterbury campus (NVCC now has a second smaller building for classes in Danbury), when he entered a classroom designed for a specialized type of welding. Awwad said she worked to set up that program recently with the help of NVCC President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D. That program has already sent skilled workers into workforce, Awwad said.
Awwad also said she knows of 80 manufacturing positions in NVCC’s service area that currently cannot be filled because employers need a specific set of skills.
On one hand, that presents a challenge to community colleges, but it also offers a huge opportunity for them to train more students, Blumenthal said.
NVCC, the second-largest community college in the state with 7,195 students whose average age is 26, has achieved a 20 percent growth in the past three years as more people look to find the skills employers are seeking.
One of the challenges students face, NVCC and state education officials said, is transportation in Southwest Connecticut, which makes it difficult for students to get to and from classes while battling traffic congestion on I-84 or Route 8. That is part of the reason NVCC opened a center for classes in Danbury, the municipality with the second-highest number of NVCC students (Waterbury has the highest). The other challenge is cost, which is why NVCC relies on funding to help keep its tuition at a relatively low level.
James Troup, dean of administration at NVCC, said between tuition, fees and books, a full-time student can expect to pay about $4,000 a year at NVCC.
Awwad said her organization is also willing to help pay companies to hire employees in training, including the companies she knows of that are looking for skilled workers.
“I’m willing to subsidize the wage if they will take someone on,” she said.
She said they have to convince employers that while they might not have the “Cadillac” employee at this point – they might have a Chevy, she said – Awwad is going to “incentivize them to turn him into the Cadillac employee.”
Through the community college’s partnership, she said, her organization is able to help with the entry-level skill sets.
“Then we really have to convince the employer to make the investment,” she said. “And we’re willing to provide 50 percent of the wage for a period of time."
Editor's Note: Full Disclosure - Oxford Patch Editor Paul Singley, the author of this article, is an adjunct faculty member at Naugatuck Valley Community College. Blumenthal also spoke at other community colleges in the state on a tour Monday; some of those visits were covered by other Patch sites.