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Despite Low Unemployment, Connecticut Has Talent Shortage

The state’s jobless rate is at 3.6 percent, which is lower than the national rate, but there are 90,000 unfilled jobs across several industries. The state is attempting to attract workers with education and job training.

After better-than-expected federal jobs numbers, Connecticut officials are working to find the right workers for thousands of unfilled positions.

The latest report showed that 336,000 jobs were created nationally in September, keeping the federal unemployment rate at 3.8 percent — far better than at times in the past.

Connecticut still has about 90,000 unfilled jobs in a wide variety of industries.

From a macroeconomic standpoint, Gov. Ned Lamont is pleased with the numbers. With more employees working, the state will receive additional money from state income and sales taxes, Lamont said.

Those collections will then help increase the recent years’ state budget surplus, which has allowed the state to set aside more than $7 billion in additional funds for the long-underfunded pension plans for state employees and public school teachers.

“I like where Connecticut is,” Lamont said.

While the number fluctuates, Connecticut’s unemployment rate at 3.6 percent is currently lower than the national rate, a reverse of the usual situation.

While the state government has 6,000 unfilled jobs on the books, recruiting managers are actively looking to fill about 2,000 of them over the next two years, officials said. In recent times, large numbers of jobs have been left vacant to help balance the state budget, dating back to then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

One of the biggest employers seeking workers is Electric Boat, which has increased production to build three submarines per year in Groton for the U.S. Navy.

The company recently reached a new, five-year contract with the Metal Trades Council that represents more than 3,400 employees, including welders, machinists, pipefitters, electricians, and painters, among others. Those workers will receive general wage increases of 21.4 percent over five years, along with retention and sign-on bonuses.

Electric Boat is hiring more than 5,700 workers this year, which has a direct impact on other employers whose workers who move to more secure jobs with EB, and forces the submarine-maker to recruit from a larger geographical area.

At the national level, polls show that many Americans are frustrated with the rising cost of groceries and the highest mortgage rates in the past 23 years. But President Joe Biden touted the jobs numbers.

“The unemployment rate has stayed below 4 percent for 20 months in a row — the longest stretch in 50 years,” Biden said at the White House. “We’ve achieved a 70-year low in the unemployment rate for women, record lows in unemployment for African Americans and Hispanic workers and people with disabilities — folks who have been left behind in previous recoveries and left behind for too long. We have the highest share of working-age Americans in the workforce in 20 years.”

Filing the Jobs

One of the biggest players in trying to fill the jobs is Capital Workforce Partners, a government-funded, nonprofit agency that serves 37 towns in Greater Hartford and north central Connecticut.

The organization’s president and chief executive officer, Alex B. Johnson, notes that Capital serves the largest of five regions across the state, covering about one third of the state’s population. He describes the job-filling challenge as “this crisis — this talent shortage issue.”

Capital is among many groups tackling the issue, including the Governor’s Workforce Council, Office of Workforce Strategy, state labor department, chambers of commerce, and state Department of Economic and Community Development, among others.

Capital works to solve the challenges of education, job training and developing the skills for workers to be employable. In addition, the picture includes child care issues, as single parents are an important part of the workforce. At the same time, the unemployment rate still remains low.

“This is our opportunity and challenge,” Johnson told The Courant in an interview. “Those are the issues we wrestle with daily.”

While the economy remains mixed, with many Americans and Connecticut residents highly concerned about inflation, Johnson noted that the jobs picture is solid overall.

“The economy is booming,” Johnson said. “The [unfilled] number ranges from 80,000 to 100,000 jobs at any given time.”

Besides providing traditional job training to close the skills gap, Johnson says that Capital also works to provide the “soft skills, behavioral skills, punctuality, how to problem solve” as workers need the entire package to be a productive employee with a successful career.

“We try to meet people where they are,” Johnson said. “We’re not a Literacy Volunteers organization. … We train people in the culinary arts, construction, the gamut.”

The training also includes the cutting edge of information technology, along with manufacturing, health care, transportation, and distribution, among others.

As Capital seeks more government funding to provide more summer jobs and other programs, Johnson argues that Capital provides “a significant return on investment” through its work.

With the state paying at least $30,000 per year to keep someone incarcerated, an inmate needs training and a second chance when they leave prison.

“We could keep them out of prison and train them up for $10,000,” Johnson said.

Former state Rep. John Hampton, a Democrat who served 10 years in the legislature, said Lamont has been heavily involved in the issue.

“If there was ever a governor who understood workforce issues, it’s this governor,” said Hampton, who now works for Capital Workforce Partners. “This is his wheelhouse.”

Statistics from Capital show a direct correlation between education levels and jobs in Hartford County. Among those with a bachelor’s degree or more in college, 89 percent of the individuals are working. For those with less than a high school degree, the number plummets to 58 percent in the labor force participation rate.

In the prime working years of age 30 to 64, 81 percent are working, according to the statistics. But among those aged 16 to 29, the number working drops to 70 percent.

Young or old, skilled or unskilled, Capital tries to help industries and workers across the board.

“The workplace is constantly evolving,” Johnson said. “We want to respond to all the sectors.”

©2023 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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