Valley Independent Sentinel. By Jean Falbo-Sosnovich. Feb 2, 2021
ANSONIA — Thanks to a new partnership with The WorkPlace in Bridgeport, Ansonia High School (AHS) juniors and seniors will have an opportunity to take part in professional training aimed at preparing them for the workforce.
The WorkPlace recently landed a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Labor which will enable eligible high school students and young adults (ages 16-24) residing in the Workplace’s 20-town district, which includes Ansonia, to acquire professional and occupational skills.
“This grant will expand upon the great work already being done at Ansonia High School to prepare young adults for employment in manufacturing,” said Sarah Lewis, director of the apprenticeship program at The WorkPlace, in a press release. “Manufacturing has a long history in the Naugatuck Valley. It’s no secret that manufacturers need access to highly-skilled young workers as a large portion of the current workforce reaches retirement age. Our goal is to form strong partnerships and strengthen the pipeline of candidates who are prepared for apprenticeship training.”
In its heyday, the Valley was a dominant hub for manufacturing. It was a landscape previously dotted with massive smokestacks atop former giants like Ansonia Copper & Brass, the Farrel Corp. and Housatonic Wire.
Lewis said today the Valley is home to more than 450 manufacturing companies, ranging from MPI in Seymour — a leader in electronics components — to the iconic Better Packages in Ansonia, which for more than a century has been sealing packages delivered by the likes of Amazon, QVC and Wal-Mart.
“Manufacturing is no longer dirty, dark and dangerous,” Lewis said. “It has transitioned into a dynamic industry with new technologies. There are immense growth opportunities. And you can also earn a great living.”
Tom Long, senior vice-president of communications for The WorkPlace, concurred. “Manufacturing is changing with the 21st century and companies are thriving here,” Long said. “No longer are these occupations dirty by nature, but rather they have been replaced by clean technology that requires math and science knowledge and less manual labor.”
Long added the existing workforce in the industry is growing older, and in time, will need to be replaced. That’s why he said preparing today’s youth to fill those jobs is critical to the industry’s continued success. He added the WorkPlace’s “holistic approach” in supporting workers provides services that “break down barriers” to ensure career success.
The new program will launch at AHS and other school districts in about six to nine months, Long said. It will build on AHS’ existing manufacturing pathway program, Lewis said, where students earn credits from Housatonic Community College.
Lewis said the program will arm young adults with such skills as communication, teamwork, work ethic, promptness and even coming to work in proper attire.
Some 30 AHS students recently participated in an initial presentation about the program, where some members of The Workplace virtually spoke with teacher Sal Calcasola’s class. Students were excited to learn about opportunities they’d receive in technology and transportation assistance once they begin their apprenticeships.
AHS Junior Jackson Dong plans to enroll. “Because I am going to become an engineer, I will need every opportunity that can help me through the process of being one,” he said. “If this program can teach the basics to the end goal of getting a good job then I will want to take it.”
Superintendent of Schools Joseph DiBacco, in a prepared statement, commented on the new program. “It was such welcome news, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic, knowing that we would be adding yet another great program for Ansonia High students,” he said.
AHS Principal Paul Giansanti agreed. “They will be giving our students the opportunity to learn on the job, and they will also be providing the supports that our students need,” he said in a prepared stateemtn. “They want to get young adults into the workforce, and we are so glad to know that our Ansonia students will be able benefit from this.”
Employers or students interested in learning more about the Youth Apprenticeship Readiness Grant can visit The Workplace website at https://www.workplace.org/apprenticeshipworks/ or email Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to 2020 statistics from the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturing jobs in Connecticut account for 11.23 percent of the total output in the state, employing 9.50 percent of the workforce. With nearly 4,000 manufacturing companies, Connecticut employs an average of 161,000 manufacturing employees, with an average annual compensation of $98,150.