CT Manufacturing: How We’re Filling the Gaps

Manufacturing is alive and well in Connecticut….but we are facing a shortage of skilled people to fill the void now that the present baby-boomers are beginning to exit the workforce.  These are the headlines you constantly see and which send chills down the spines of many small business owners throughout the region.

In the distant past, large manufacturing companies, like the Pratt Whitneys and GEs of the world, hired people right off the street or recent graduates from the trade school to fill their needs for skilled workers.  These workers were trained in-house through a formal company apprenticeship program that involved extensive class room study as well as on-the-job training under the watchful eye of a skilled, experienced worker.  Usually it took several years for these apprentices to gain the knowledge and experience needed to become fully skilled in their particular trade.  It also used to be a goal of parents back then to ensure that their children learned a trade just as they did, and their parents before them, in order to secure their future.

Moving forward in time, as the baby-boomer generation started having families, they wanted their children to go to college so they could learn a profession and not end up working in a dirty old factory.  Factories back then were poorly lit and not the cleanest of places to work.  At the same time, many of the large manufacturing companies were farming the work out to smaller companies or moving work overseas in an effort to reduce cost. As a result, less emphasis was placed on learning a trade so the number of skilled workers entering the workforce dropped dramatically. Now the baby-boomers, who are the skilled workers that manufacturing companies rely on, are reaching retirement age.   As they begin to retire and leave the workforce, manufacturing companies are shorthanded, with very few skilled replacement workers in the pipeline.

Today, there is a renewed emphasis on manufacturing here in the United States, and the demand for skilled people in the trades, particularly precision machining, is at an all-time high.  Smaller companies like Aero Gear, don’t have the resources to develop and run certified apprentice programs like the big companies did in the past.  Instead, we,  along with several Aerospace Component Manufacturers (ACM) member companies, have a team of mostly HR people and business owners who work together to get the word out to the young people in the area high schools and middle schools, that there are great career opportunities for those who choose to go into the field of manufacturing.  The ACM Workforce Development Team, as the group is called, works closely with area school administrators to provide them with information about manufacturing careers, provides on-site presentations to students and teachers, and even donates equipment and other resources to the schools to help them promote manufacturing.  The Workforce Development Team meets regularly throughout the year and the success of their efforts are somewhat measured by how many students and teachers attend the Annual ACM Workforce Opportunity Fair each October.  For the past several years, the number of students attending the fair has grown steadily, with over 800 attending this year’s event.

From l to r: Pam Cooper, Pat Brueckner, Kevin Mackstutis – three young engineers at Aero Gear manning the booth at the ACM Workforce Opportunity Fair

From l to r: Pam Cooper, Pat Brueckner, Kevin Mackstutis – three young engineers at Aero Gear manning the booth at the ACM Workforce Opportunity Fair

The new Aero Gear engineers sharing with students their experiences and career opportunities at Aero Gear.

The new Aero Gear engineers sharing with students their experiences and career opportunities at Aero Gear.

In addition to the Workforce Opportunity Fair, Aero Gear, and several other ACM companies, work closely with the local community college systems which have developed Manufacturing Technology programs designed to help fill the training void of skilled workers.  Working closely with Asnuntuck Community College, Aero Gear provides 2 to 3 scholarships a year to qualified students who are sincerely interested in getting into precision aerospace manufacturing.  The program offered by Asnuntuck trains students in both manual and CNC machining, teaches them about quality and Lean Manufacturing through a combination of class room and hands on training with real equipment.  The program also includes an internship segment where the student actually spends time working at the sponsoring company a few days a week during the second semester of study.  At the end of the internship, the company can decide whether or not to extend the student a full-time job offer, which happens in the majority of cases.  The Manufacturing Technology Program at Asnuntuck has worked well for Aero Gear and provides us with a reliable source of trained entry level machinists.  Once we hire someone at an entry level, we provide additional cross training to help round out their skills and help advance their career with Aero Gear.

Aero Gear is continually looking for new engineers and machinists to manufacture our highly technical products of carburized/hardened ground gears and gearbox assemblies in the global aerospace industry.  Through partnering with the other ACM member companies, the trade and technical schools, along with the community colleges like Asnuntuck, we are able hire attract, train, and retain the talent we need to keep aerospace manufacturing alive and well here in Connecticut.

For more information about Aero Gear, Inc., please see our website at www.aerogear.com.