Donor Briefing: Education, Skills and Training for 21st Century Jobs

Skills that are in demand and what is needed to improve Connecticut's workforce were discussed at a Foundation Donor Briefing held on May 29 at District New Haven's Holberton School.

(L-R): Patricia Melton, David Salinas, Wendy Waithe Simmons. Photo credit: Kathleen Cei

Skills that are in demand and what is needed to improve Connecticut's workforce were discussed at a Foundation Donor Briefing held on May 29 at District New Haven's Holberton School.

Panelists included: New Haven Promise President Patricia Melton; District New Haven Founder & CEO David Salinas; and Connecticut Voices for Children Director of Education and Equity Wendy Waithe Simmons.

What We Heard

Economic Growth Needs to Be Inclusive

Community Foundation President and CEO Will Ginsberg introduced the meeting with an overview of The Foundation's strategic commitment to promoting inclusive growth for Greater New Haven.

"Simply put, this community needs to create more opportunity for more of its residents," said Ginsberg.

The Future Is Digital

Expertise in software engineering, digital design and other computer sciences are in high demand across all sectors of the economy, said Salinas, also a co-founder of the software engineering school Holberton New Haven. Salinas noted that presently there are more than 7,000 open jobs in software engineering in Connecticut.

"At Stanley Black & Decker, robots are everywhere and workers are sitting behind a computer. That's the face of manufacturing now," said Salinas. "We need to fill the jobs that are here."

Students Still Need a Well-Rounded Education

Employers continue to see too many job applicants lacking in soft skills such as persistence and leadership as well as general communication and analytical skills.

"The role of education is to produce well-rounded people and engaged citizens and is not only about getting someone a job," said Simmons. "Young people need an education that allows them to change course."

Disparities Are Systemic

"Too many kids are not coming out with basic communication skills. There is a huge gap between zip codes," said Melton. "Unless we can lift all the kids up, we will continue to have problems."

The Business Community and Education System Are Not Aligned

Before he helped launch Holberton, Salinas said he met with schools and found them unresponsive to recommendations about the types of courses that would teach the skills needed by high-tech companies. Salinas said the education system needed disruption in order to meet emerging needs.

Simmons and Melton both agreed that a disconnect exists between the business sector and education system.

"I believe that companies leave Connecticut or don't come here because of a lack of talent, not because of taxes or other reasons," said Salinas.

Certification Requirements Limit the Teacher Pool

Connecticut has one of the most restrictive teaching certification processes in the country, which limits the number and diversity of applicants. Simmons pointed to Massachusetts as a potential model for credentialing mid-career professionals who want to become teachers.

Early Career Exposure Pays Off

After becoming the head of Promise, Melton noticed the lack of formal structures to help students connect with employers. Promise responded by offering Promise Scholars summer internship and externship programs designed to help them transition to a career after college.

What We Can Do

Additional Links & Resources

About The Foundation's Donor Briefing Series

Our ongoing Donor Briefing series invites guest experts to discuss urgent issues affecting us locally and nationally and to inform us about what can be done. Contact us to learn more.

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