HARTFORD, Conn. — At 51, Doug Galullo is taking a new direction in his career, learning the facets of manufacturing in Waterbury, Conn., still a factory town long after its reputation as a brass center has faded.
He managed a family printing business, was a letter carrier and a Waterbury police officer. Now he’s enrolled in a 13-week course at the Manufacturing Alliance Service Corp., a postsecondary school and educational foundation, learning injection molding, machine training and other skills.
“I’ll try a few different things and see what might spark an interest,” Galullo said. “What’s the risk? You’re not going to get killed,” he said, comparing it to his work as a patrolman.
As many as 6,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Labor. To boost hiring, workforce development officials, educators and others are looking to experienced workers 50 and older who are interested in a career change.
“Right now we have an overwhelming demand,” said Richard DuPont, director of campus and community relations for the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.
Connecticut is home to three defense contractors: jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, which also builds engines for commercial airliners; submarine maker Electric Boat; and helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft. While each of the manufacturing giants has built its own workforce development network, thousands of suppliers in the state, many of them family-owned machine shops, are looking to hire and need outside help.
The drive to enlist older workers is just the latest of many efforts by Connecticut’s schools and workforce development officials to pump up the manufacturing workforce. Businesses have looked beyond community colleges and vocational schools to persuade high school students to embrace careers in 21st-century factories. And they’ve urged middle- and high school girls to also consider manufacturing.
Connecticut has established advanced manufacturing education programs and promoted manufacturing at high schools and community colleges. Before the pandemic, trade shows such as an annual aerospace gathering in Hartford, were organized.
And schools and manufacturers have established internships to attract next-generation workers.
“People understand there’s a war for talent and are looking for talent where they haven’t looked before,” said Colin Cooper, the state’s chief manufacturing officer. “People are getting more innovative and trying to identify workforce solutions.”
Workers who enter the profession at age 50 can have a “20-year run,” he said. “It’s not unusual to walk into a manufacturing facility and seeing people in their 60s and 70s.”
DuPont said the oldest graduate at the Housatonic Community College program was a 69-year-old man, who soon found a job.
“He wanted to prove to his grandchildren you’re never too old to learn,” he said.
Coursework is taught in two semesters, awarding 34 credits, DuPont said. Students can expect to work seven hours a day five days a week for 10 months. The second part of the 10-month period is an opportunity to earn an internship, which usually is a pathway to a job, he said.
Employers don’t see a prospective worker’s age. They instead recognize experience and a work ethic that come with a late-stage career switch, said Michael Edwards, instructional coordinator at the Manufacturing Alliance Service Corp. After being laid off from an aerospace manufacturer due to COVID-19, he switched to his latest gig as an instructor.
“I was looking for the next step in my career at 53 years old,” he said.
Finding teachers to work with an influx of students is another challenge that’s being met by recruiting former manufacturing workers.
Bernard Hayford can bridge manufacturing and teaching. The 66-year-old former social studies teacher just completed a 12-week training at the Manufacturing Alliance Service Corp. At age 66, he’s not interested in retirement.
“This is another route to understanding the manufacturing world,” he said.
AARP, the advocate for senior citizens and others who haven’t yet reached that stage, is working with Goodwin University and Connecticut’s public colleges and universities to fill manufacturing jobs in Connecticut. It offers members a 25% tuition scholarship at Goodwin and has established a $10,000 scholarship fund for residents age 50 and older enrolled in a manufacturing program offered by higher education institutions.
Training is free for the 100 or more students who go through the Manufacturing Alliance Service Corp. each year. It’s a big selling point to prospective students.
Hayford said he learned of the training program in a brochure at the local library. When he called for information, including cost that he learned was zero, his response was immediate: “I’m coming over,” he recalled saying.
Funding for coursework such as an introduction to plastics, computer numerical control and fundamentals in manufacturing that each cost between about $4,000 and $7,000 is provided in a grant from the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board.
Nora Duncan, state director of AARP, said efforts began in 2018 to enlist retirees to teach and show how manufacturing can be a second career for those 50 and older. AARP tried to target those who might have had experience as a teacher or were employed in manufacturing.
Twenty-first century manufacturing is “not backbreaking work,” she said.
“If you can operate an iPad, you can work at a manufacturer. That kind of soft skill has a lot of built-in value,” Duncan said.
Community colleges don’t require degrees for instructors, which she said helped alleviate teacher shortages.
Not only are courses in manufacturing an alternative to costly college education that leaves graduates burdened with debt, advocates say, but their training also will likely result in a job.
“They’re all going to get hired,” Edwards said of his Waterbury students.