Smart Investment: Valley Workforce Training

In many cases, developing a competent and ready workforce takes a holistic approach

According to The Valley Now: A 2015 Snapshot, the rate of job creation in the Valley region exceeded the state average from 2002 - 2012.

This was largely due to a doubling of healthcare industry jobs. But, salaries often associated with those jobs are not considered living wages (approximately a $40,000 full-time annual salary in CT). In fact, one in three Valley households struggled to make ends meet in 2012, according to the 2015 Snapshot.

The most recent data compiled by the Pew Charitable Trust suggests a middle-class household income is between $45,000 and $134,000 in CT. The average Valley wage, as also indicated by the 2015 Snapshot, was $63,000. Costs associated with housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare and other daily living expenses challenge a family's ability to maintain a middle-class status.

"History has typically indicated that everyone benefits when there is a growing middle class," says Joseph Carbone, President & CEO of The WorkPlace Inc.

"When we see a shrinking of the middle class, that portends great tragedy."

The WorkPlace, as one of five Workforce Development Boards in CT, prepares people, through a life-long learning model, for sustainable careers with higher earning power.

"The more expertise you have, the more insulated you are from the negative impact of unemployment," explains Carbone, citing The WorkPlace's coordinated system of education and training in order to develop a workforce that can compete in a volatile global marketplace.

The WorkPlace's Health CareeRx Academy provides training and career development for people looking to advance on career ladders within the healthcare industry.

"We take low-income workers and get them on a trajectory to where the middle class is in view," explains Carbone. "Say someone receives training to become a certified nursing assistant, for example. We consider it a loss if they do not advance their career path further, knowing they need continuing education to earn a living wage."

Working closely with regional workforce development programs in the Valley and Southwest CT is Lori-lynn Chatlos, Regional Business Services Specialist for the CT Department of Labor.

"My work involves helping companies maintain or increase their competitiveness and supporting employers and staff through temporary declines in business," she says. "We offer grants, tax incentives and technical advice to employers investing in the skills of their workforce."

Both Carbone and Chatlos agree that the Valley region is in a unique position as the economic and job landscape across the
state and nation changes.

"There is more affordable land and space, as well as working population, for businesses looking to operate in CT," Carbone says. "Elected officials and community leaders are in tune with that, and that gives me optimism."

"There are opportunities to expand our advanced manufacturing sector, attract tourism and produce more talent in the construction trades - especially in growing areas such as green and rehabilitative construction," Chatlos says. "Valley
towns already collaborate, as evident in the Brownfield Redevelopment projects completed or underway."

In many cases, developing a competent and ready workforce takes a holistic approach. TEAM Inc. has been piloting the Gaining Access to Independence Now (GAIN) initiative over the last 18 months, collaborating with stakeholders in the
community, such as Griffin Hospital and Valley Regional Adult Education. Those partners use their expertise in workforce
preparation and employer connections. TEAM also provides case management to the target population of eligible individuals
residing in the Greater Valley region.

TEAM's work includes comprehensive assessments for barriers to employment, such as basic employability skills, childcare and transportation, and assists participants to develop action plans for training, education and job placement.

"We recognize that a strong economy is directly linked to a resident's individual and family well-being," explains TEAM's President & CEO David Morgan. "We must continue to draw from the Valley's exceptional talent base for future growth."