HARTFORD — In a show of bipartisanship, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides sat side-by-side Tuesday while testifying in support of legislation they say is the first step in attracting more students to the manufacturing workforce.
Klarides, a Republican from Derby, and Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin, appeared before the legislature’s Commerce Committee Tuesday afternoon. They sat next to each other and took turns speaking about a bill they drafted together to push students toward a career in manufacturing. The bill is pending before the committee.
The manufacturing industry thrives in the state, growing 2 percent in the last year, Aresimowicz said. Hourly wages grew by nearly 13 percent. But half of the state’s manufacturing workforce is over 50 years old, and it’s unclear if a younger workforce exists to replace them when they retire.
“We need kids to take their place,” Aresimowicz said.
For many, the natural progression is to attend college after high school, Klarides said, but college isn’t right for everyone.
“There are plenty of careers out there that you can enjoy and have a passion for, and have a good living,” she said.
While many technical schools in the state already operate at capacity and
provide other options for young students, they told the committee. More night classes and after-school programs should be established throughout the state, they said.
“Manufacturers have so much need,” Klarides said, noting the state’s manufacturing industry is “begging for workers.”
The two House leaders came together on the subject while meeting with manufacturers through the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Klarides admitted Tuesday that it was odd to be sitting next to Aresimowicz in support of something. Democrats and Republicans have clashed this session on how to manage a budget deficit that continues to grow.
The pending bill would establish a committee of representatives from state agencies, technical colleges and the manufacturing industry. That committee would be charged with creating a catalog of training opportunities across the state in the field of manufacturing. Additional details would be included in the catalog, including cost of admission for each education program, and the certification or license awarded upon completion. The catalog would be published annually with up-to-date information, according to the legislation. Every year, the committee would report to the General Assembly and provide an analysis of whether the state is meeting workforce needs.
In addition, the state Department of Education would be required to establish a program to introduce middle and high school students to the field of manufacturing and employment opportunities. Through the program, students would visit manufacturers to see modern manufacturing and the products produced in the state.
Manufacturing jobs are often perceived as dirty, Aresimowicz said, but “the jobs have changed dramatically.”
The legislation would help residents throughout the state, but could have a greater impact on urban areas, Klarides said. Encouraging students to pursue well-paying manufacturing jobs will allow people to work, make money and raise a family without incurring student loan debt, she added.
“I think that a lot of these kids and their parents don’t understand this is an option for them,” Klarides said.
Engaging students and showing them what manufacturing looks like in the state “will be positive for them, but also for the workforce,” Aresimowicz said.
Members of the Commerce Committee were supportive of the legislation and thankful that Aresimowicz and Klarides were able to come together on the issue.
“I want to commend both of you for reaching across the aisle,” said state Rep. Brian Becker, D-West Hartford.
State Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, called the bill “one of the best ones I’ve seen in this building in my time.”
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