Transforming the Workforce

In this difficult economic climate, jobs have become a central issue of our time. Local business and political leaders recognize that a workforce educated and trained to meet the demands of the 21st century economy is crucial to the sustained vitality of the region.

The Industrial Age factories that once dominated the Greater New Haven economy, producing guns, tools, machinery, and other goods for markets around the world, provided an abundance of entry-level jobs that required little academic schooling. What a worker needed to know could be learned on the job, and there was a good chance that job could support a family. Those days are long gone.

For most people, earning enough money to support a family now requires education beyond high school. The job landscape is fragmented across multiple sectors. Job skills that were once valued are now obsolete. And in the past five years, job seekers have faced the most competitive employment market seen in a generation.

In this difficult economic climate, jobs have become a central issue of our time. Local business and political leaders recognize that a workforce educated and trained to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy is crucial to the sustained vitality of the region. And access to family-sustaining work is the best anti-poverty measure of all. Throughout Greater New Haven, innovative programs are helping people across the workforce spectrum access the skills they need to compete.

A Structural Shift

Since the recession that began in 2008, the country has lost a greater percentage of jobs for a longer period than in any other recession since World War II1. While job losses bottomed out in 2010 and recovery appears to be underway, the uptick is slow and the economy is not forecast to recover completely for several years.

The recession has affected people at all skill levels. Many job seekers with long resumes have run through their unemployment benefits and remain unemployed. Others are working part-time for low wages in jobs for which they are overqualified. The result is that many of the lower-level jobs that were once open to young or less-educated workers are now being filled with college graduates and people with longer work histories, constricting an entry point into the economy for many in the workforce.

"This recession is structural, not cyclical," said Bill Villano, Director of Workforce Alliance, which administers federal and state workforce funding for training programs in the region.

Targeting Opportunities

Another structural shift - a demographic one – stands to benefit job seekers, but also raises the stakes for workforce development. Statewide, the retirement-age population is growing significantly and the number of people at the start of their working lives is declining2. Although this should result in less competition among job seekers, the younger population is increasingly comprised of poor, minority workers in low-wage jobs. Unless skill levels are raised so more people can access higher-wage jobs, the state will struggle to generate the tax base to support its older, dependent population.

"If we can take the folks at the bottom, and bring them up to the middle, our per-capita goes up," said Orlando Rodriguez, a senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children.

The demographic trends show that Greater New Haven will play an increasingly important role as a source of workers for the state. While the number of people ages 0 -19 is plummeting, particularly in rural and suburban areas, the reverse is true for New Haven and other cities.

"Where will future workers come from? Urban areas" said Rodriguez.

The strength of the Greater New Haven economy is a cause for optimism. Despite the economic challenges, Greater New Haven is a leading job producer in the state. Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital continue to expand the opportunities for work in health services, research, and education. Sales, administration, food services, and hospitality are also adding jobs and manufacturing still has a strong presence, with a 10% share of employment in the region3.

Political leaders in New Haven are attempting to harness these economic assets with the creation of a new jobs pipeline program, New Haven Works. The program's mission is to work with employers and job seekers to connect qualified applicants from the city to the best available job openings.

Preparing the Workforce

On a regional level, while the federally funded One-Stop Career Centers provide job training and employer match services, many job-seekers are falling through the gaps in the system. To address the broad spectrum of skill levels and needs in the workforce, experts stress the importance of multiple education and training programs that are tailored to the local economy and the specific needs of the people served.

"We need multiple customized approaches that are targeting people and targeting places," said John Padilla, of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology [ConnCAT] is a targeted program that takes advantage of the local opportunities in healthcare. Launched in 2011, ConnCAT trains adults for jobs in phlebotomy and medical offices. The program is modeled after the nationally acclaimed Manchester Craftsman's Guild and the Bidwell Training Center founded in Pittsburgh, PA more than forty years ago by Bill Strickland.

The WorkPlace, in addition to providing traditional job readiness services, also focuses on an older long-term unemployed population with long work histories. Job seekers are receiving family counseling to help alleviate the emotional toll of long-term unemployment.

"When you are out of work for a year or more, it will strip you of your self-confidence," said Joe Carbone, President of The WorkPlace. "You're not even counted anymore. When these people fall into the abyss, they become more dependent on the safety net."

In urban centers, the prison re-entry population faces major barriers to finding sustained employment. Emerge Connecticut, in New Haven, has gained recognition for providing offenders with paid on-the-job training combined with basic educational instruction.

Closing the Literacy Gap

In New Haven, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and less than a quarter of the jobs paying $40,000 per year or more are held by city residents4. Low basic skills and literacy rates are among the biggest barriers that prevent more residents from moving up the employment ladder and out of poverty.

In Greater New Haven, 62% of out-of-work adults in south-central Connecticut test below proficiency in reading and math[i]. Unable to read and complete a job application, many potential job seekers are not only shut out of most available jobs but also fail to qualify for subsidized training without first being referred to adult education.

For many adults with low basic skills, however, the adult education model is a poor fit because it replicates the traditional classroom in which they failed during high school and does not provide students with enough feedback to show where they stand or whether they are making progress, according to Padilla.

"We need on a mass scale a different learning model that is focused on workforce development," said Padilla.

As an alternative to adult education, Padilla points to San Jose's Center for Employment Training and Washington State's I Best program, which don't require job seekers to pass basic skills classes before attending job training. Instead, basic skills are taught within the context of vocational training and grounded in real-world examples. They also make use of on-line courses that adapt to skill levels and allow students to learn at their own pace.

Strive-New Haven, a job-placement program for hard-to-place candidates, and ConnCAT have both recently implemented Key Train, a self-paced learning program that teaches basic skills, financial literacy, and soft skills within the context of real-world scenarios.

What The Community Foundation is doing

Residents need access to education and training to acquire the skills needed for jobs with family-sustaining incomes. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has joined with Annie E. Casey Foundation and United Way of Greater New Haven in a collaborative that collectively assesses the success of existing workforce programs and builds on strategies for maximum impact.

Recent major investments include:

All Our Kin: Helps child care providers establish licensed businesses and improve the quality of childcare.

Community Action Agency: A multi-service agency in New Haven that addresses the immediate needs of individuals and families facing poverty and helping them become self-sufficient.

The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT): Industry-specific training programs in phlebotomy and medical coding for adults and arts and technology programs for youth.

Easter Seals Goodwill Industries: The Hill Family First Initiative provides workforce development and other supports to help Hill neighborhood residents increase their incomes and stabilize their family's economic well-being through employment, increased savings, and other asset-building measures. The initiative is delivered in partnership with the New Haven Boys and Girls Club, the Consultation Center, New Life Corporation, and the Courtland Wilson Library.

Habitat For Humanity: Skills for Life program engages at-risk youth in the construction of a house, teaching construction and project management skills. The program is delivered in collaboration with Youth Continuum.

Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven: Low-literacy adults receive tutoring in order to fulfill important life goals, such as being able to fill out a job application, read to their children, obtain a driver's license, attain a GED or attend college.

Strive- New Haven: Job preparation, training, placement, and support for Greater New Haven residents seeking employment. Strive helps candidates develop soft skills, interview strategies, and resumes.

The Workplace: Bridgeport's nationally recognized Platform to Employment (P2E) includes access to behavioral health services and counseling, in addition, to interview and resume workshops and employer matching services.

Workforce Alliance: The New Haven agency administers state and federal job training programs and operates CT Works career centers. The Community Foundation provided support for youth summer employment programs.

Works Cited

1. Workforce Alliance Data Quarterly Regional Economic Update, June 2012


3. CT Labor Dept

4. Understanding The Greater New Haven Region Through Data, Data Haven, December 2011

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
February 2013