Mirror forum: Young people often lack right skills for CT’s job market, panel says

West Hartford — Thousands of Connecticut college and high school students looking for jobs upon graduation each year are either lured away by the glitter of big cities or simply don’t have the work-ready skills or the entrepreneurial inclination to land a job.

But there are plenty of jobs out there if these millennials look in the right place, get internships, learn key skills and connect with a business mentor to help guide them.

Economists and entrepreneurs explored the job situation facing the state’s 20-somethings during a lively panel discussion at the University of Hartford Monday night.

The wide-ranging discussion was the second of nine panels on a range of topics sponsored by The Connecticut Mirror in coming months.

Economists said there are jobs in the state’s growth areas such as financial services, manufacturing, insurance and pharmaceutical bioscience. Peter Gioia, chief economist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, predicted that as the workforce ages out of the market, the state also will need linemen, plumbers, electricians, commercial loan officers, actuaries and financial planners.

“There are a lot of jobs that go begging because their skills are mismatched,” Gioia said.

Part of the problem is that young people don’t learn the skills in school to prepare them for the workplace, and companies no longer have the money or time to train them.

Wayne Vaughan, president of Fuscient, a Hartford marketing company he launched in 1997, said students need to improve their business skills.

“When somebody graduates from college, and they go to their first job, they are like a newborn baby,” Vaughan said. “The root of the problem is that work is not part of people’s education.” As a result, students don’t learn soft skills such as being able to work on a team.

However, community technical schools are starting to catch up and retool their curriculums to better match business needs, Gioia said. The state also is investing $1.5 billion to expand science yechnology engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and curriculum at the University of Connecticut.

Katelyn Anton, community manager for Independent Software of New Haven, said students should make themselves more marketable by learning computer programming, including HTML and CSS, and by thinking entrepreneurially.

She also suggested that a first-year seminar in entrepreneurship could help students learn skills such as how to react when things go wrong and how to manage a team.

“If we just turn on that switch, by the time they are seniors, I think we’d see a generation of students who are a lot more ambitious,” she said.

Orlando Rodriguez, a senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, said the problem is thornier for young people who never attend college. He said this segment represents a large portion of the state’s young generation, and unemployment in this segment can run as high as 40 percent in Bridgeport and other urban areas.

Part of the problem is the social isolation in these urban communities where they don’t get to see the broad world. “If in the neighborhood you live everybody is working at Walmart or Target, that’s what they talk about,” he said.

He suggested that changes such as less restrictive zoning laws in the state’s suburbs could help break down the isolation. Gioia suggested that more openings at magnet schools, such as the green technology magnet, also could inspire urban students.

The panelists agreed that internships, mentorships and other small but focused steps can help address the problem rather than trying to come up with a comprehensive strategic plan.

The next Mirror forum will be Thursday, Nov. 7, at Fairfield University. The subject: Measuring Good Teaching — The state’s new teacher evaluation system has proponents and skeptics, but do core relationships still exist to create the most effective learning environment? Join us!

 

 

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