Washington – President Donald Trump’s budget calls for cutting manufacturing training money that has helped provide hard-to-find skilled workers for Electric Boat and its suppliers, even as the president wants to ramp up building submarines.
“This is exactly the wrong direction we should be going,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
In May of 2015, Courtney invited former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to tour Electric Boat and its suppliers.
The result: Connecticut received a $6 million grant that helped set up the Eastern Connecticut Manufacturing Pipeline, whose website encourages the unemployed and underemployed to sign up for short-term training to work at Electric Boat. “No experience necessary,” the website says.
But Trump’s budget for 2018 would cut the Department of Labor’s job training money by 35 percent.
At a confirmation hearing Wednesday, Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, urged Alexander Acosta, Trump’s pick to head the Labor Department, to restore the funding.
“I get a little worried when I hear you talk about accepting a lower level of funding for job training,” Murphy said. “You know, the President’s budget has winners and losers, right? There’s a lot more money for defense, there’s money for a [border] wall, and that comes at the expense of other programs.”
Murphy also said the boost in defense spending in Trump’s budget, which would be offset by cuts to dozens of domestic programs, would allow Electric Boat to build additional submarines.
“But if we don’t have the workforce pipeline necessary to staff the supply chain, those jobs will go overseas,” Murphy said. “At the Eastern CT Manufacturing Pipeline, it’s not about mismatched resources. It’s simply about not having enough resources.”
Acosta answered, “It’s not enough that a program sounds good, a program has to be shown to be good.” But he seemed open to reconsider the budget cut.
“I want to go through these programs and compile the data,” Acosta said, “because for a lot of these programs, I believe the rate of return on taxpayer – an investment of taxpayer dollar – is quite significant and would pay for itself very readily in money saved and taxes paid by the fact that individuals have jobs,” he said.
Connecticut has receive a number of other grants from the U.S. Labor Department in the past few years, including a $2.5 million Advanced Manufacturing Initiative grant in 2014 to help hire instructors, renovate instructional labs and purchase state-of-the-art equipment at Connecticut colleges.
But Connecticut officials and federal lawmakers were hoping for more help from the federal government to shore up the state’s manufacturing base.
“U.S. Department of Labor investments into the manufacturing skill training for our region’s residents have achieved a 92 percent job placement rate for graduates and continue to perform ahead of schedule in all metrics,” said John Beauregard, president of the Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board.
Courtney said worker training is not only needed for Electric Boat, which hopes to hire an additional 1,500 workers this year, but for the state’s aerospace industry and other sectors.
Over the years, the skilled manufacturing base had deteriorated because of the dropoff in production a few years ago at Electric Boat, prompting the state’s technical schools to stop teaching metal trades. The worker shortage is also a result of the retirement of large numbers of skilled laborers who are Baby Boomers.
Trump met with CEOs of some of the nation’s top manufacturing companies last month. They told the president there were still plenty of U.S. factory jobs but too few people qualified to fill them.
Courtney said he regularly looks at the job postings at EB. On Wednesday, there were 267 job openings, “many in the metals trade.”
“There’s going to be a pushback from the business community,” Courtney said of the projected cuts to federal job training programs.