By Madelyn Colon
CTLatinoNews.com Political Columnist
If State Rep. Victor Cuevas (D- Waterbury) has his way, the Waterbury region of the future would regain its iconic “Brass City” reputation with Latinos leading the way. That’s why he is a staunch supporter of a legislative bill (SB 476) that will align manufacturing technology programs at community technical colleges with the actual needs of manufacturers.
In today’s job market, an astonishing 91 percent of small to medium-sized metalworking manufacturers are having difficulty finding qualified employees and a startling 69 percent have actual job openings. In the Danbury-Waterbury area, there are at least 30 companies that also offer advanced manufacturing positions. The jobs are out there.
Cuevas, a Naugatuck Community college graduate says, “At the Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center, Latino youth that want a different career path can get a modern education in manufacturing. As the baby boomers who own companies are retiring, programs like this open up opportunities for them to get into these shops from the ground up and become the next generation of owners”.
An ally on SB 476 is State Sen. Art Linares (R-Westbrook) from the other side of the aisle. He too supports the legislation, and clearly sees the link between manufacturing technology programs at state community colleges like Naugatuck and the high-quality private sector jobs that offer a real path to the middle class. He says, “This will help put more and more Connecticut Latinos on the road to great careers and prosperity. This is about filling good, quality jobs with good, quality people, and about growing Connecticut’s middle class.”
In recent months much debate has taken place about increasing the federal minimum wage to $9. While this is certainly way over due and should be implemented, increasing the minimum wage alone will not open doors to the middle class for working families and ought not to be the ONLY road we take.
Rather, let’s also put more emphasis on preparing the workforce of tomorrow – which will become increasingly Latino – for these manufacturing jobs. They pay a $25,000 starting salary and are already right here in our own state.
A real plus to the bills’ approach is that it recognizes that different manufacturing processes exist in the state, and that the instruction methods by the state system of vocational technical colleges may need to be different in training students from different parts of the state.
David Beano, from Prospect Machine Products, Prospect, who testified at the hearing, said, “The manufacturers served by Naugatuck Valley Community College are very different from the Asnuntuck [Community College] area ones … we are high volume, high precision manufacturers of low cost complex components. The majority of the components manufactured go into high tech precision assemblies that have health, life and safety repercussions if not made to exacting specifications.”
Naugatuck has already modified its course content and equipment list used in courses. An example is an EDM precision machine that will be used by students and also used by Waterbury and Danbury manufacturers. This will prepare students who attend NVCC for jobs unique to Waterbury area manufacturing shops.
Jim Vieira, one of the partners at Screw Machine Tool in Waterbury, sees the value of this approach. The two-year-old company makes form tools from reverse molds for production by the screw machine industry. Vieira said, “We need employees that have basic mechanical aptitude and a mechanical mind. We can train them but if they come to us ready to run the type of machines we actually use, this is a very good start.”
Lauren Weisberg Kaufman, an education and workforce development expert and formerly executive director of the CBIA Education Foundation, also sees the link to economic development. “A strong manufacturing base is vital to Connecticut’s economic future and we can’t expand manufacturing without the input of the employers. Graduates trained this way will meet employer requirements to get and keep high skill, high wage jobs.”
Let’s make the connection for Latino youth to take advantage of the opportunity.
By Madelyn Colon