“Job Creation” has been the battle cry of countless politicians across our nation. Unfortunately, for decades, there has been a chasm between the public and private sectors on the interpretation of this term. Thus, we ought to take the “political speak” with a grain of salt, a large one too.
The content of Governor Malloy’s budget proposal indicates primarily the obvious need to bring the fiscal aspect of the state into some kind of balance. This cannot be done without straightening out the administrative infrastructure. Such an attempt will be at odds with both public sector bureaucrats and organized labor, both connected to the governor’s own political party. It is to be expected that this conundrum will keep him fighting the demons of the past for years to come. Rather than create jobs, he will have to slash them in his own backyard, adding to the pool of unemployed.
For decades, as the public sector “created” jobs in its convoluted infrastructure, the private sector has been shedding them, except for occasional bubbles like the housing boom. All the while, skilled Americans have been losing jobs due to the uncontrolled export of American industrial assets. Simultaneously, our government has kept our southern border open to uncontrolled influx of unskilled, cheap labor for jobs in agricultural, construction and food processing industries, which Americans did not care for. This upheaval has enriched many greedy industrialists and financiers, but has badly damaged the American economic and industrial potential.
In Connecticut, the industry has been synonymous with manufacturing. Our state has been the cradle of manufacturing innovation. Combined with the independent spirit of its creators, this industry evolved into a highly specialized form, relying on itself for perpetuation. Skills have been passed on from generation to generation, relying on “know-how” for staying ahead of competitors. For example, in Waterbury, countless people acquired their skills in the likes of Scovill, Anaconda or Chase; many of them went on to start their own businesses and continue the tradition.
The above mentioned changes have had a huge impact on our workforce. The traditional flow of “know-how” has been interrupted by the downsizing or elimination of many workplaces. Skilled personnel, from engineers to machine operators, have become unemployed and frequently shunted out of their professions. Our public education system has ground on ponderously, producing graduates with little or no knowledge required for entry into any industry or pertinent higher education. Our welfare system has, in practical sense, destroyed the initiative and work ethic of many.
Federal, state and municipal administrations have remained oblivious of the menace facing the American industry as a whole. They are not providing any usable guidance or protection, for fear of reprisals from the international lobby. An article in the Smithsonian Magazine of February 2011 quotes President George Washington stating in a 1789 speech, “The promotion of domestic manufactures will, in my conception, be among the first consequences which may naturally be expected to flow from an energetic government”. President Reagan placed temporary quotas on some Japanese products to protect American manufacturers. Since then, our presidents have shunned away from decisive steps which might annoy the international corporations, let alone foreign governments which happily subsidize and protect their own industry.
In last month’s issue of the Observer, I commented on the need for a long-range economic recovery plan based on Connecticut’s location and resources. We have to recognize which aspects of the traditional model are obsolete and must be either abandoned or adapted to face the new challenges. By the same token, there are newly emerging aspects which would require promotion. Because of the divide between the public and private sectors on the concept of priorities, I had suggested that our state’s industry and academia should join forces in establishing the needed parameters. The state would then use these for a long-range plan of economic recovery. Unfortunately, such an approach would probably be too inexpensive for our leaders to comprehend and our economy will be consigned to further regression.
Availability of an educated and trained workforce, able to adapt to changing workplace demands, will be the key to our economy. This will be a crucial issue in Waterbury, which has had the highest unemployment in the state for years. The prospects are dim, due to varying reasons, primarily the lack of vision of the current city administration.
Currently we have a state run vocational high school, Kaynor Tech, which has been recently renovated at great expense. As part of his budget cuts, Governor Malloy proposes to transfer the control of state operated vocational schools to local or regional school boards. This would mean that Kaynor Tech would be placed under our dysfunctional Board of Ed. Kaynor has regularly excelled over our high schools and enjoys great rapport with industry. Our public school system has lost any touch with manufacturing since the early 1990s. Simplistically, our Board of Ed has been planning a new technical high school, apparently on superintendent Snead’s assumption that they can do a better job than Kaynor. Does Mr. Snead realize that state coffers are empty and the taxpayers are already burdened with current school construction bonding? Who will pay for the equipment and hiring of more teachers? I hope Governor Malloy will take the potential damage to the industry in our region into consideration.
Another valuable resource is the Technical Training Center, run by the Manufacturing Alliance Service Corp. in conjunction with Waterbury Adult Education. This facility was created by local manufacturers and provides advanced machining training.
The huge school construction project, funded by the state and city’s taxpayers, offered an opportunity for training local residents in construction skills. Against fierce opposition of the Giordano administration some civic leaders managed to push through the so-called “Good Jobs” ordinance requiring that contractors’ crews should include a percentage of local residents, who would receive on-the-job training. The Jarjura administration has assigned the implementation oversight to WDC; whom, over the years has shared few facts with the public. Recruitment and screening of applicants has been under the care of the Workforce Connection agency from the start, with limited funding from various grants.
According to Workforce Connection, the state has provided funding since 2007, as part of the “Job Funnel” program, partnered by construction trade unions and building contractors, among others. The mission of the “Job Funnel” is to, “…prepare qualified unemployed/underemployed adult residents in selected communities…. for good paying construction jobs and career pathways in the building trades…” The communities covered during 2007 – 2010 have been Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven; with Bridgeport added in 2010.
The agency sets rigid standards for applicants. High school diploma or GED are required; the agency offers GED classes. Applicants must reach math level equivalent to that of 8th grade (take into account that these are generally adults) and be drug free. Those accepted into the program are offered orientation, remedial education, and other services needed to assist on the job site and further training by the employers.
According to the agency the initial “Good Jobs” information effort had drawn 1237 individuals locally; of these 719 have shown up for the placement tests, with 205 passing it and 144 applying for remedial classes, in which 109 subsequently succeeded. Out of the total, 117 got jobs with contractors; since 2008, 85 of these have applied for a 4 year apprenticeship training by the unions. The “Job Funnel” report for the 2007 – 2010 period shows wages in Waterbury area increasing from $12 at placement time to $14 per hour.
I have been told that other towns, especially New Haven, have been more successful in the program, because their comparable ordinances have “more teeth”, i.e. can be more vigorously enforced. Let us hope that Governor Malloy will not cut this resource and that the city administration will back “Good Jobs” more effectively. The community must also realize that in our present economy, sustainable jobs cannot be created out of thin air.