After years of declining earnings, Connecticut manufacturing apprenticeships are on the rise.
In 2010, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor, the state’s entire manufacturing sector had just 170 registered trainees—someone who learns the trade through formal training and hands-on instruction.
Five years later, the number of trainees was practically unchanged at 173.
“Apprenticeships are an important talent pipeline in Connecticut, so an ineffective program has held the sector back for many years,” said Chris DiPentima, President and CEO of CBIA.
DiPentima said there is no incentive for small businesses to hire an apprentice, making it difficult for a company to sacrifice time without support.
“And those who hired an apprentice often saw them move on to a bigger company,” he added.
Manufacturing Innovation Fund
But in 2016, DiPentima was appointed to the Subcommittee on the Manufacturing Innovation Fund’s Apprenticeship Program, breathing new life into its people development efforts.
The program offers a matching grant that helps with wage subsidies, tuition reimbursements, and competency testing.
And in just seven years, the number of apprenticeship programs grew to 469—a 271% increase.
“This program opened the door for small and medium-sized businesses,” said DiPentima.
“And manufacturers jumped at the chance to get involved.”
DiPentima explains that apprenticeships in manufacturing represent unique career opportunities.
“While formal training in manufacturing is helpful, the value of hands-on training in a workshop is immeasurable,” he said. “Nothing compares to it.”
And in an interview with The Connecticut Mirror, DOL training director Todd Berch called the training “the other four-year degree.”
“Instead of going to a classroom every day, you go to the workplace,” he said.
“After high school you get a degree. Once you have completed your apprenticeship, you have a career.”
“What’s right for you”
Manufacturers also benefit from the MIF program as they receive financial incentives to hire trainees and have the freedom to regulate their own program individually.
“We want manufacturers to work with us and develop what’s right for them,” said DiPentima.
DiPentima also said there is a big chance companies will want to hire their trainees once the program is complete.
“There is a lot invested in training apprentices, so companies take these programs very seriously,” he said.
“And most of the time, they want to keep these people after they graduate.”
Raising awareness of the MIF program can also help alleviate Connecticut’s labor shortage crisis, DiPentima said.
There are an estimated 11,000 job openings in the state’s manufacturing sector, driven by an aging workforce, the state’s high cost of living and parents encouraging their children to go to college.
And CBIA’s 2022 Manufacturing Report found that 87% of company leaders have struggled to find and/or retain employees, while 44% said a lack of qualified applicants is the top impediment to growth.
This lack of qualified applicants is partly due to a shortage of apprentices in manufacturing.
Of Connecticut’s approximately 4,368 manufacturing companies, only 320 – 7% – have a registered apprentice.
But with the passage of legislation by the Connecticut General Assembly that extends the manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit to flow-through businesses, many small and medium-sized businesses are now on the same playing field as larger manufacturers.
Expanding talent pipelines
While the program is on track, DiPentima said there is room for improvement.
Between 6,000 and 8,000 people are needed in manufacturing annually, and half of those should come from apprenticeships, he said.
“If you want 3,000 training places, the pipeline is simply not enough at the moment,” he said.
“The demand is there, but the people aren’t.”
According to DiPentima, awareness is critical to the success of the program.
“The awareness of what the program is, what it has to offer and how valuable it is for all manufacturers,” he said.
“This is a robust program with high-paying jobs at the end, we just have to spread it.”
DiPentima also said Connecticut needs to be a more attractive place for trainees to want to live there.
“We need an active pipeline coming into the state,” he said. “Without that, we have to build our own talent.”
He highlighted CBIA’s policy recommendations on Transform Connecticut, aimed at expanding pathways to rewarding careers and new opportunities for residents, which are supported by nearly half of the new legislature.
“These recommendations are a set of sensible solutions related to workforce training, housing, student loans, healthcare and immigration,” DiPentima said.
“And if we want more trainees in the state, we need to build a sustainable opportunity economy that emphasizes affordability, meaningful careers, and a positive business climate.
“The chance is there. We just have to pack it.”