EAST HARTFORD -As more businesses pack up and leave Connecticut and thousands of manufacturing jobs go unfilled each year, Goodwin College has a plan to fix that.
“We want to be a full service stop for all these manufacturers,” said Clif-ford Thermer, chairman of the Department of Business, Management and Advanced Manufacturing at Goodwin College.
Four years ago the college did not offer any manufacturing courses. However, with the help of U.S. Rep John Larson, D-1st District, and Pratt & Whitney it was able to do so and in 2015 opened an Advanced Manufacturing Center.
Today Goodwin offers four associates degrees, two bachelor degrees and certifications in CNC machining, metrology, manufacturing, quality management and supply chain and logistics.
“Rather than replicating what other colleges and universities do, we interviewed dozens of manufacturers to find out the specific needs and what skill set they needed most in order to help them land more contracts and build more businesses,” Thermer said.
This past November, the college introduced a full-time 37-credit 22.5-week CNC and metrology program.
“This is as close to working in a manufacturer that these folks will get without working in a manufacturer right now,” Thermer said.
From 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, students are immersed into the whole manufacturing process from being able to operate different levels of machinery and also do the quality assurance needed during production.
“Getting students more exposure, more competencies and more complex machining is going to make them more valuable to these companies that hire them,” Thermer said. “Some people might say ‘Well, isn’t that a lot for 22.5 weeks?’ Yes it is, but if our students couldn’t do it we wouldn’t be doing it.”
In order to get more young people into manufacturing and keep students in Connecticut, Thermer said Goodwin works with organizations such as the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology’s “Dream It. Do It” program. The program provides students, parents and educators with resources and programs to combat misconceptions about the 21st century manufacturing workplace and introduces a broad range of education and career opportunities in the field.
In addition, Goodwin College has an advanced manufacturing mobile lab that it brings out to middle and high schools. The lab introduces students to manufacturing, especially at schools that may not have the necessary funds or resources to have shop or industrial classes.
Through working with the Department of Economic and Community Development, Goodwin was able to purchase a 44-foot-long trailer with all the high tech products needed to take a training program out on the road.
While training the next generation of workers is a top priority, Thermer said Goodwin also brings the trailer to manufacturers to keep current employees up-to-date with the changing technology.
“Employees can step out for four-eight hour workshops, and then return to work and use the skills they just learned,” Thermer said.
This past year, Thermer said, they have done 77 events with the advanced manufacturing trailer, which included 40 workshops. They also were able to train 414 incumbent workers.
“What we’re trying to do is not just deal with the need today, but the need that is going to be there in the future by encouraging young people into manufacturing,” Thermer said.
Connecticut River Academy, an early college high school on Goodwin College’s campus, expanded their curriculum to include manufacturing. For the last two years all freshmen take an introductory course on manufacturing technology.
“The idea is when kids get to their junior year, because we have an early college model, high school students are eligible to take college level courses with their electives,” Thermer said. “Some kids have graduated with 30 to 36 college credits with their high school diploma.”
Goodwin hopes to work with other high schools, technical and non-technical, to create a similar pathway from learning manufacturing in school to then pursuing it as a career as the one at Connecticut River Academy.
“We’re trying to have them see the world of manufacturing differently,” Thermer said.
He said games that kids are playing today, like Minecraft, mimic the manufacturing and supply chain process.
“When you put it in the form of Minecraft, their eyes light up because they didn’t realize they were putting that together. … Complex economic processes become understandable to them.”
Furthermore, Goodwin has partnerships with manufacturing companies not only in the immediate area, but all across the state to bring in representatives to talk to students about careers in manufacturing and working for them.
“There’s one thing for a facility member to say do this you’ll get a job, it’s another for a company to come in and say ‘Hey, I’m from the company and we need you,’” Thermer said.
While misconceptions about careers in manufacturing still exist, Thermer said people undervalue the trade.
“What manufactures do is important. The things that they make are important,” he said. “If this part doesn’t work, or that spring for that EpiPen doesn’t work, if this medical device screw doesn’t fit, if this element for this engine doesn’t work, bad stuff can happen.”
According to Thermer, skilled workers are needed in order for the state to stay competitive.
“We see this as team Connecticut,” he said, adding that all schools, manufacturers and state need to work together.
“We have to keep manufacturing vibrant, alive and competitive here in Connecticut. The only way we can do that is by developing our work force and that next generation. (In order to do so) we really have to rally together, it is an all hands on deck.”