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Capital Workforce Partners (CWP) President and CEO Alex Johnson spoke with MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) Content Manager Nan Price about how the organization develops sustainable career paths and helps connect employers with skilled workers.

NAN PRICE: Tell us about some of the workforce development trends you are currently seeing.

ALEX JOHNSON: The biggest challenge we’re facing is not unique to us. It’s responding to the post-pandemic environment. Two years ago, when the pandemic hit, there were massive layoffs. Looking at those who were most affected by the initial layoffs, there was a significant impact on women’s ability to participate in the workforce. Prior to the pandemic, 33% of those who were unemployed were women; now it’s up to 55%.

The pandemic has also had a tremendous impact on low-wage earners. About two thirds of those who lost their jobs were making $33,000 or less. Of that, 55% were individuals who had a high school diploma or less. So, it had a significant impact on the workforce.

Opportunity youth have also been highly impacted. Individuals between 18-24 years of age, particularly in communities of color, have seen a significant increase in unemployment and disconnection from education and training. The workforce development of this future workforce talent pipeline must be given greater attention to support the significant employer workforce needs.

Employer workforce needs have never been greater! Employers are rebounding from the pandemic and in desperate need of workers. As we monitor employers’ needs and look at the various help wanted tools we use, on average, there are about 50,000 job openings in our region on a given day.

Our engagement involves identifying and help those who have been impacted by the pandemic—trying to help them rethink their careers and their desires to reenter the labor force and, at the same time, meeting industry demands. Those are some of our unique challenges.

As part of supporting the regional employer workforce development needs, we’re particularly excited by the growing partnership of CWP with the MHA, where we’re co-convening two regional industry partnerships around the information technology and healthcare industries. The newly developed Capital Area Tech Partnership includes 40-50 tech employers, and efforts are underway supporting the development of a regional healthcare industry sector partnership, including the work of the MHA and the Connecticut Health Council for careers in healthcare.

NAN: How is your organization meeting some of the challenges you mentioned?

ALEX: We had to retool the way we deliver services—and we have done that successfully. CWP typically runs career centers and, due to the pandemic, we immediately transitioned from in-person services to remote and virtual services. We rapidly re-engineered ourselves and changed what was a center-based service model to a virtual service model. Now we allow individuals to come into our centers or receive our services virtually.

But even though we have retooled ourselves, the big challenge is getting information to individuals to help them think through their desire to re-enter the labor force and support their career choices.

Employers are desperate for workers. We’re seeing more people exiting the workforce then entering the workforce. So, there is an opportunity for individuals to rethink their careers and rethink the value of their work.

Right now, employers are willing to reach out and collaborate with us and support the continued training and development individuals need. They are more receptive to hiring individuals and training them, more so than prior to the pandemic.

NAN: What types of support and resources are available to both job seekers and employers?

ALEX: We’re fortunate that Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont was very responsive to this crisis and made Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding available when it was released from the federal government. With those funds, over the last year, CWP was able to train and place more than 1,400 individuals into careers—not just jobs—and get them the necessary industry-recognized credentials in healthcare, manufacturing, information technology (IT), and other types of careers and connect them to employment. Those resources enabled us to support individuals beyond what we’re typically resourced to do.

Governor Lamont has created a CareerConneCT initiative and pledged $100 million to support that initiative. CWP is working very closely with the Office of Workforce Strategy and our counterpart boards throughout the state to seize this opportunity to bring more resources into our communities.

In terms of resources and support specifically provided by CWP, we were asked to lead an IT sectorial partnership where we’re going to be collaborating with statewide community colleges and other providers to train individuals to get IT skills, they need to enter the workforce and compete for jobs. Because of the 50,000 available on a regular basis, about 12,000 are in the IT space. Some require baccalaureate degrees, but a good portion of them only require that individuals receive some entry-level credentials.

CWP has also been asked to lead another statewide partnership in the transportation, distribution, and logistics area. We’re primarily focused on providing training for commercial driver’s license (CDL) Class-A drivers. The lack of qualified drivers has impacted the supply chain nationally. There is a need for about 100,000 CDL drivers in our state, which is a significant need.

We’re leading an effort to meet that industry demand by creating more opportunities for individuals to get their CDL certificates and licenses. We want them to be able to transition to good jobs, because we see this as an opportunity to put individuals on a path to a career that provides them with wages beyond the low-level wages, to get them to the point of what we refer to as “financial self-sufficiency.”

NAN: What is on deck for 2022 in terms of initiatives or goals of the organization?

ALEX: Our goal is to continue being responsive to our dual customers with quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. That involves collaborating very closely with employers and meeting the needs of our job seekers. We’re fortunate that we have abundance of resources to support our journey.

As noted previously, we’re also focusing on individuals who were challenged to be part of the economy prior to the pandemic, “opportunity youth” individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out school and out of work as well as individuals with disabilities and low literate adults who have basic skills.

We’re committed to ensuring that those populations are a part of this transformation in a way that we can reengage them, get them prepared, and get them connected to the workforce. We want to help create opportunities for all adults to participate in the economy. And, in doing so, we’re creating value for our communities, and we’re providing a trained workforce for the employers in our community.

Moving forward, we’re building a full-service online statewide intake portal for both job seekers and employers looking for education, training opportunities, and resources. We hope to launch that within the next three to six months. We’are excited that this will transform how we support individuals in this state.

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