One of Connecticut’s challenges is preparing students for what comes after high school. Far too many students are graduating from Connecticut schools unprepared for the workforce. This hurts students and our economic prospects. Connecticut must do more to ensure kids have the skills necessary to fill high-demand jobs, especially in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Connecticut’s economy is rapidly changing and the research is clear:

  • 65% of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist, according to a McKinsey & Company study.
  • By 2020, the national economy will face a shortage of 5 million workers with the necessary education and training to fill tomorrow’s jobs, according to a Georgetown University study;
  • Only 4 in 10 Connecticut high school students meet grade-level expectations on state assessments in math, with even less hitting the mark in our state’s urban school districts; and
  • 80% of the fastest-growing careers requiring a bachelor’s degree also require deep knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

ConnCAN is working with schools, government, higher education and businesses to streamline the state’s workforce development system.

Paths to college are well-established but career pathways are often less clear, making it difficult for high school graduates to navigate their way into the workforce. We must do more as a state to strengthen and streamline career pathways for Connecticut’s students. When students have more access to the career of their choosing, companies also benefit from a steady pipeline of locally-grown talent who can make an impact on day one.

What are we doing to prepare kids for high-demand, high-wage careers?

To understand what Career & Technical Education (CTE) opportunities kids have access to, ConnCAN completed a high-level landscape analysis of all the existing programs in the state. The analysis shows:

  1. Over 150 high schools offer CTE courses, most commonly in Business Education, Culinary Arts, Computer Science and Technology Education;
  2. Less than 50% of CTE programs are aligned with high-quality, tested programs like Project Lead the Way and National Career Clusters;
  3. When schools partner with local companies and institutions of higher education, their curricula align with high-demand industries like computer programming, advanced manufacturing and engineering;
  4. Information on CTE is largely dependent on each school’s website. Other than the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System (CTECS), information was not publicly available in a centralized location, making research and analysis challenging.

Connecticut has centers of excellence throughout the state. While there are some examples of public-private partnerships (IBM in Norwalk among others) the offerings are ad hoc and not widely available. Connecticut would benefit from greater statewide coordination of K-12, post-secondary and industry expertise to develop a highly-aligned 21st century CTE model.

What should Connecticut do to strengthen and streamline access to high-demand, high-wage jobs?

This session, ConnCAN supports HB 6887 An Act Concerning Apprenticeship Opportunities For High-Growth, High-Demand Jobs and similar legislation aimed at preparing students for jobs in a 21st century economy. These bills start a conversation and the necessary avenues to create lasting change in Connecticut’s CTE and career readiness programming.

There’s more we can do and Connecticut has a great deal of assets, including K-12 public school systems, state colleges and universities, philanthropy, private companies and public officials. Together, with backing from state government, this cross-sector group can collectively:

  1. Identify existing CTE programs, assets and gaps, trends in high-demand jobs and skill needs;
  2. Discuss the state’s needs with a wide variety of stakeholder groups;
  3. Remove duplicative/defunct programming to clear the path for a coherent, accessible CTE system;
  4. Recommend policy changes to the governor and legislature to vote on by early 2020; and
  5. Recommend opportunities that the private sector and schools can collaborate on that do not require government action.

What have other states done to improve workforce development opportunities?

In its research, ConnCAN came across several high-quality statewide programs from Colorado, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Maine that have streamlined resources and produced results for students and employers.

Colorado Succeeds, a cross-sector learning and collaboration organization, and CareerWise Colorado, a youth apprenticeship model, have collectively set statewide targets and created tangible opportunities for young people to gain work-based experiences in high-demand fields. Both run as independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, collaborating with business, community and government to achieve their outlined goals.

Tennessee Governor Lee, formerly a private sector leader, created the GIVE Act in early 2019 to incentivize industry to offer certificate programs for their employees, and for students to enroll in certificate programs at a low-cost. This model relies on a competitive grant application process for Tennessee’s industrial regions. The state creates an incentive structure with resources for best practices and industry certification information.

Closer to Connecticut, Prepare Rhode Island, is a strategic partnership between state government, private companies, K-12 public education, post-secondary colleges and nonprofit organizations. Prepare Rhode Island’s model is as follows:

Finally, MaineSpark is a 10-year initiative to ensure that “by 2025, 60% of Mainers will hold education and workforce credentials that position Maine and its families for success.” Their website provides Mainers with guidance on career decision-making, certification pathways and a suite of resources that support local talent and employers to engage with one another.

Where do we go from here?

Connecticut has strong economic assets and the willpower to make meaningful changes to its workforce development system. While there are successful programs throughout the state, they are often disparate, disconnected and operating in silos.

As other states have done, Connecticut should create a one-stop shop for all students interested in understanding their career pathway and for employers to market and recruit locally-grown industry-certified talent. Additionally, Connecticut should utilize a permanent cross-sector commission to learn about models throughout the country, understand the workforce needs of our state and develop actionable policy and non-policy solutions that move the needle for our kids.

As a state, we must prepare each student for college and career. By strengthening and streamlining our workforce development opportunities, we are saying to young people that there’s a place for them in Connecticut’s 21st century economy.


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