In Phillips' view, community is awakening to the fact that stakes are high, time is short
By Stan Simpson
April 02, 2012
Thomas Phillips may be the master convener of a regional workforce operation that develops skills of the unemployed and underemployed to match available jobs, but he is really more like a train conductor.
And he's trying to prevent two engines from colliding. There is the Demographic Train with these sobering truths on board: Connecticut is a state with a burgeoning "aging" issue. The median age here is 40; the fourth highest percentage of older residents in the country. Sitting next to passenger Aging are other demographics indicating that 40 percent of the future workforce will be coming from urban communities. But Connecticut has the widest achievement gap in America between urban and suburban schools, so many of those urban students will be under-educated and unprepared for the workforce.
On the opposite track is the Recession Train. Scores of people have been laid off and are seeking employment. So, the snapshot of The Land of Steady Habits presents a picture of unpredictability. Aging state. Ill-prepared future workforce. Few jobs.
"So, the question is: If Connecticut's population isn't going to grow, and it's going to get older, where is the future (workforce) going to come from?'' asks Phillips, 58, the president/CEO of Capital Workforce Partners.
Phillips has been leading the organization since 2001. He manages a $27 million budget — funding through federal, state and outside dollars — and 47 employees. CWP is charged with overseeing workforce development policy, planning and programming for 37 North Central Connecticut towns. It serves approximately 40,000 people, mostly what CWP calls "underutilized" talent — undereducated urban youth, ex-offenders, folks with disabilities and veterans.
Sitting in the meeting room at this Union Place office, wearing a crisp white shirt and patterned tire, Phillips is focused, analytical and ambitious. The married father of two is a native of Newton, Mass. He's a sports enthusiast and avid follower of all things Boston sports — Sox, Pats, Celtics, Bruins.
He starts his day at 8 a.m. with morning meetings and ends well after 9 p.m. at his home office, where he does additional work. Trying to provide his constituents job training that aligns with skill sets needed for emerging sectors such green technology, construction, health care and advance manufacturing keeps him busy most of the day.
"What I like most about this job is the opportunity it provides to allow us to be very impactful in this community,'' Phillips said.
For example, CWP is trying to super-size a paid high school internship program, funded by federal and state money, within Hartford public schools. Students are able to leave school grounds and get the real world experience of a professional workplace. The expectation is that the students will see the opportunities presented in the business sector and become more engaged in school work.
The challenge with the internship program is that the funding is becoming scarce. As a result, Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra is promoting his 2012 Summer Youth Employment Initiative, a new push to encourage local businesses and corporations to provide paid eight-week summer internships for students. A push is also being made at the state capital to provide tax credit incentives to those companies that step up. Youth advocates also want to increase the amount of state money set aside for summer employment programs.
CWP's partners with various partners, including municipal leaders, corporate bosses, schools leaders, nonprofits, unions, and foundations such as the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
The foundation identified education and work force development as two of its highest priorities, something that, predictably, greatly pleases Phillips and youth advocates.
"Summer youth employment is a crucial component of positive development and civic engagement,'' Segarra said. "Since the start of the year, I have been reaching out to our corporate neighbors, encouraging them to hire Hartford youth and make a difference not (only) in a young person's life, but in Connecticut's Capital City.''
Phillips says he sees a synergy and growing awareness about the need to make youth employment and workforce development a priority. "We're all starting to row in the same direction in term of common goals and outcomes,'' he said.
For example, ex-offenders are given job training, through CWP, to become construction workers on building projects run by Hartford Hospital and the Hartford Insurance Group.
Quiet as it's kept, manufacturing is still very much alive in Connecticut. But no longer is the need to make simple widgets. High-tech precision manufacturing is a hot sector. Lots of jobs are available, yet there are very few people to fill them because of the specialized skills needed.
This year, a manufacturing jobs project was launched by a group that included U.S. Rep. John Larson, Connecticut Department of Labor and CWP, to place unemployed manufacturing workers with appropriate job openings. CWP is also partnering with workforce development efforts sprouting in Manchester, New Britain, Bristol and soon East Hartford.
As Phillips talks about one initiative, he follows up with plans for other ventures that he can't elaborate about publicly yet. For example, CWP has plans to significantly expand its adult literacy programs.
"Tom Phillips is a high energy, forward-thinking leader who ensures we keep our programs and initiatives on the cutting edge and responding to the needs of area businesses,'' said Dennis Mink, lead youth coordinator at Capital Workforce Partners.
He is the CEO who, when it comes to employment readiness, makes sure the trains are running on time.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FoxCT) and senior executive adviser at the Hartford Journalism & Media Academy. His 'Faces of business' column appears monthly. Know someone who'd make a good subject for 'Faces of business'? Contact Simpson at Faces@firstname.lastname@example.org.