U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, unveiled new bipartisan legislation at a family-owned contract-manufacturing company in Middletown Wednesday that would bolster vocational education and training across the country.
Courtney is the lead Democratic cosponsor of The Public Private Vocational Partnership Act that was introduced by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska).
"This is a national challenge, that's why I'm joining a Republican from Alaska," Courtney said after visiting Pegasus Manufacturing, which services more than 70 domestic and international customers in industries such as aerospace, power generation, ship and submarine building, and hi-tech.
The bill would provide a tax credit for businesses that either donate equipment to vocational education programs or host an intern as part of an educational training program approved by a college or school. It provides an annual tax credit up to $50,000 for property donations and up to $6,000 per internship. It would ensure that students in technical programs get hands-on training on up-to-date equipment.
Groton is home to the , which attracts students from throughout southeastern Connecticut for .
Courtney said one of the biggest problems manufacturing companies face is finding skilled tradespeople in an aging workforce.
“They really are out there scouting the landscape to find young people to replace the ranks with students from the vo-tech and community college systems,” he explained.
And it’s a difficult search.
“It’s an absolutely constant refrain,” Courtney said. “They’re poaching on each others’ employees. We need to expand the pool. It’s a generational issue.”
In a tough economy, there’s more competition for fewer traditional blue-collar jobs compared to a generation ago. Students skilled in internships and taught on top-of-the-line manufacturing equipment will have an advantage over other young job-seekers.
Courtney joined John Rathgeber of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association; Chris DiPentima, president of Pegasus Manufacturing; John Murphy of the Connecticut Technical High School System; Frank Guillini, director of Manufacturing Technology at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield; Bonnie Del Conte of CONNSTEP; and Michael Faenza, Dean of Students at Vinal Tech High School Middletown for the event.
Customers served by Pegasus include the U.S. government, Rolls Royce, Hamilton Sundstrand, Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, AgustaWestland, Honeywell, Electric Boat, Newport News, General Electric and UTC Fuel Cell.
Although many Connecticut companies offer mentorships, Courtney says, it’s done more on an “ad-hoc” basis. This legislation would facilitate such partnerships.
“Companies do mentoring programs as a way to try and interest young people in the manufacturing sector,” Courtney said. In fact, “has gone to area high schools [to recruit]. Now there are people at Electric Boat who are mentoring that were mentored at one time.”
“This modest tax incentive makes it much easier for smaller firms like Pegasus” to acquire skilled workers straight out of school, Courtney explained.
Although hands-on training is part of the vocational-technical curriculum, Courtney said it’s difficult for schools to provide students with “state-of-the-art or million-dollar equipment. It’s hard to finance that sort of acquisition. This would create a new avenue for equipment donations” from companies such as Rolls Royce, Pratt and Whitney and Electric Boat.
“They’re going to need a younger generation of welders, machinists and electricians. This bill will tighten the relationship between Connecticut employers and the educational system,” Courtney explained.
Just this morning, Courtney said, Asnuntuck Community College signed up 50 new manufacturing technology students.
“If those folks hang in there, they will get snapped up [by employers]. It’s a very popular program.”