Connecticut's Unemployment Remains High But There Are Jobs to Be Found
For every job opening in Connecticut, there are nearly six people who are unemployed.
The fact that some companies are struggling to find qualified candidates for the more than 25,000 jobs posted on the Connecticut Department of Labor’s website is one of the more frustrating factors contributing to Connecticut’s 8.2-percent unemployment rate in the first half of the year. If all of these jobs were filled by some of the state’s 152,000 unemployed, the state’s unemployment rate would drop by a full percentage point or more, bringing it below the national average of 7.6 percent.
Connecticut was recently characterized by a right-wing Forbes columnist as having one of the nation’s “worst-performing” economies, and the state was ranked last in economic growth by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.
“The economy is improving, but it’s still at sub-par growth,” says Peter Gioia, an economist and vice president at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association. “The economy obviously still has some significant challenges to it, but that doesn’t deny the fact that we are growing.”
Connecticut added jobs in five out of 2013’s first six months. Gioia says they aren’t necessarily the same jobs the state had before the economic downturn, nor are they all great-paying jobs or positions where people’s skills are used to their best potential. And while unemployment has declined, the drop isn’t completely due to more people finding work. Some have just stopped looking for a job or decided to retire.
“There are a lot of jobs that are gone that are not coming back,” says Gioia. “But now there are unmet and unfilled needs that are out there in the workforce, so we also have a problem of mismatching—who’s looking for jobs and what jobs are available.”
Manufacturing is one economic sector where hiring continues, Gioia notes, and often provides well-paying jobs. Like other areas of the economy, manufacturing is still recovering—but the industry is nearing a time when many of the most skilled workers are getting ready to retire, and they aren’t seeing an influx of qualified replacements.
Cliff Thermer, chairman of the Social Science, Business and Education department at Goodwin College in East Hartford and head of its manufacturing program, says the school is trying to entice young people to get interested in the field, while also training adults already looking for work.
“We see an opportunity to prepare the next generation of the workforce,” Thermer says, which is why the college created the manufacturing program. “I like to think of us as being part of the solution to the challenges.”
Goodwin offers a “certified production technician” class. Though the certification isn’t a requirement to hold a manufacturing position, it provides an understanding of the work that makes new applicants more competitive, according to Thermer. Those searching for jobs become attractive to employers with this kind of training, and ideally, the state itself becomes more alluring to outside firms because there is an existing skilled labor force.
“There’s a perception issue of what manufacturing is,” says Thermer. “When people start seeing this new generation of how things are done and made — it’s not your grandfather’s old manufacturing. It’s very high-tech. When you realize with some background and training, and small investment of your time, that you can break into this industry and have a good-paying job — and I think most people in life want to do something that’s significant, they want to do something that matters — manufacturing matters.”
Click on any town to see the unemployment rate.
Part of the problem is finding interested applicants who are qualified to fill positions that are open.
Like other educational institutions, Goodwin College has also noticed a huge demand for health care and nursing, and consequently created a robust program to fill those needs and contribute to the skilled workforce.
According to Nancy Steffens, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Labor, private institutions are endeavoring to train people to become gainfully employed, and the state is also making an effort to match employers with future employees. The state also works to both help those who are unemployed get jobs by showing them what’s available and offering employment tips and resources.
Though there are thousands using the state’s online job portal (ctdol.state.ct.us) to find work every day, data on how often jobs are filled as a result of the state’s help isn’t tracked. Since last August, more than 55,000 jobs have been posted on the site.
Business-service consultants have also counseled employers. “This could include helping them with training programs, matching them up with employees that meet their business requirements, and informing them of tax credits and training incentives,” Steffens says.
The Department of Labor also lets businesses know about a subsidized employment and training program that offers grants for hiring an unemployed person. There’s also a shared work program where employers “facing tough times” can have employees working fewer hours receive unemployment insurance benefits.
“This helps employers avoid layoffs and allows them to retain their skilled workers,” she says. “They are ready to hit the ground running when business picks up.”