Education paying off in qualified manufacturing workforce

June 18, 2016

Home>Education paying off in qualified manufacturing workforce

There’s no secret about the biggest obstacle to the regions attempt to grow an economy based on advanced manufacturing.

“It’s workforce,” said Delpha Very, Economic and Community Development director for Putnam. “We’re playing catch up in that area, but I think the pieces are finally getting put into place.”

When Very tries to woo a business to Putnam she highlights the region’s easy access to highways, rail lines and proximity to Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York. She talks about the quality of life and the relatively low tax rates to be found in the region.

And now, she can talk about efforts being put forward on many fronts to develop a strong, capable and innovative workforce.

For businesses interested in creating or bringing an advanced manufacturing company to the region, workforce is a key concern. And education is the primary solution.

From the University of Connecticut to EastConn’s mobile Science Technology Engineering and Math lab, education institutions are putting an emphasis on the kinds of skills these companies need.

Mark Ambruso, principal of Windham Technical School, said the state made a $900,000 investment in his school’s manufacturing program last year. The new department is full of machinery that can get students started on the basics of machining and then prepare them to run the most complex, computer-run machinery being used in industry today.

“They leave here not just with a high school degree, but with real practical skills that can get them a job,” Ambruso said. “I’m a convert to the technical school education, but I see the amazing things happening here. We’re graduating students who are ready to be the kinds of employees businesses want.”

Technical school students can graduate with multiple certificates from the National Institute of Metal Workers and Skills, said Jim Cardin, department head of Windham Tech’s manufacturing department.

“The more NIMS you have the more skills and the better paying the job,” Cardin said. “When you have a NIMS, employers know what you can do.”

Senior Athena D’Elia, of Ashford, said she is the only girl in the program at Windham Tech. But she also thinks more girls would be interested if they really understood the program and didn’t face the stereotypes from other people.

“It was really different than I thought it would be,” D’Elia said. “I really love it. I love having to figure out the programming and then actually making something.”

Brian Mignault, principal of Harvard H. Ells Technical School in Killingly, said changing the perception of manufacturing is necessary to get people to start exploring it as a career option.

Manufacturing facilities are now clean workspaces filled with some of the most advanced technology.

Windham Tech and Ellis Tech both have renovated and revitalized manufacturing departments because of the state’s commitment to funding the technical school program. Ellis even shares its manufacturing department with Quinebaug Valley Community College as it builds its new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center, due to be completed in a matter of weeks and ready for the start of the fall semester starting in August.

Steve LaPointe, director of the center, said the center will offer non-credit courses, associate degrees and one semester certificate programs. QVCC will be able to offer students a chance to improve a skill set, learn a new one or find a new career path in manufacturing, LaPointe said.

LaPointe said in the last four years the community college has awarded certificates to 115 students. About 95 percent of those students are employed by a local business.

College President Carlee Drummer said the school is committed to supporting the region’s economic growth with its programs to foster workforce development.

The technical schools and community colleges are not the only ones trying to put technology at the forefront. This school year marks the first year of two early college opportunity programs in Eastern Connecticut. Windham High School and New London High School both have the program which focuses on various aspects of manufacturing and graduates students with an associate degree from either Quinebaug or Three Rivers Community College.

Those programs are more broadly designed than the technical school programs. For example, the Windham ECO students studied prosthetics, one of Connecticut’s most in demand, fastest growing and well paying jobs, according to the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Windham High School also has a STEM Pathway and the district is home to the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy for kindergarten thought eighth grade. Woodstock Academy is also building a STEM building for science, technology, engineering and math.

Maureen Crowley, EastConn’s director of planning and development, said the organization realized not every school district would be able to incorporate STEM education into its own facilities so it developed a mobile STEM Van.

Read the article on the Norwich Bulletin’s website here.