Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Connecticut aims new program at unemployed. U.S. Wired for Education's efforts under this program have helped retrain thousands of Connecticut workers.

09/12/2009

By JAMES MOSHER
Norwich Bulletin
Posted Sep 06, 2009 @ 11:40 PM
Sited from: The Norwichbulletin

Woody Allen once said 80 percent of success is just showing up. Not in today's labor market.

Schooling is taking on greater importance as some unemployed retrain for new jobs and business owners look for new opportunities. Labor Day's closeness to the first day of school is looking like less and less of a coincidence.

Three Rivers Community College in Norwich has decided to host an entrepreneurial training program begun at the University of Hartford. Three Rivers is participating in "First Step FastTrac" in part because the Norwich/New London area's 7.6 percent unemployment rate, while below the state's 7.8 percent rate for July, remains stubbornly above historic averages.

"Now is the right time," Christina Levere, Three Rivers' public relations manager, said of the program that begins Saturday. "It's really for people who have lost their jobs."

But two local graduates, who commuted to Hartford to take the course, learned things helpful in businesses they'd already started. One said it gave him a calling card he thought he'd never need.

"The best thing I got out of it was getting a marketing plan," said Joe Sylvia, owner of Joe Sylvia Engineering, Welding & Equipment Retailer LLC in Norwich. "Before I'd show the banker some loose things and they'd sort through them, but now they're really impressed with me."

Contracts and jobs are too scarce these days for market participants to operate on pure intuition, said Joe Cunningham, owner of Cunningham Construction in Salem.

"I used to do things mostly by trial and error," said Cunningham, who commuted to Hartford with Sylvia for the 2008 program. "I don't operate that way anymore."

The course stresses practicality over theory because most students have ongoing commitments, especially family and financial, its organizer said.

"It's very hands-on," said Sandra Cahill, associate director of the University of Hartford's Entrepreneurial Center. "You don't need a degree to own your own business. Most of our students aren't even thinking about a degree."

Distance learning

While there's no genuine substitute for the classroom, distance learning is "catching fire nationally," said John Beauregard, director of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board. The U.S. Department of Labor is outwardly supporting this mode of computer-based learning used by Beauregard's board since 2004.

"Eastern Connecticut was a pioneer of this approach," he wrote in an e-mail. "This flexible solution is there for anyone's schedule."

Local fruit borne of distance learning include entry-level drafters to Electric Boat, summer interns for four regional hospitals, and 3,000 trainees working from their homes or offices.

Nearly 1,100 people attended the online training orientation of the workforce board's Wired for Work program from July 2008 to June 2009, up 69 percent from a year earlier, Beauregard said.

Patricia Parsells of Uncasville was laid off in January from her job as an administrative assistant at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. She is boosting her skills through Wired for Work and hopes adding a "webmaster" qualification to her resume will help land a job at least as good as the one she lost.

"It's helping my confidence and keeping me up to date," she said. "And I can go at my own pace."

There is evidence of national trends in last week's announcement that SkillSoft PLC's Courseware was being integrated with the Metrix Learning Platform used in One-Stop Career Centers such as CTWorks-East, with sites in Danielson and Norwich. Metrix originator Brian Lee, working through his U.S. Wired for Education effort, has helped retrain thousands of Connecticut workers. He sees the recent pact cutting turnaround time for the jobless.

The technology will keep getting plenty of use locally. Customer traffic at the four CTWorks-East career centers is up 22 percent compared to last year, Beauregard said. The average number of times a customer visits a center has increased as hiring continues to be slow.

Fewer businesses, jobs

Connecticut has lost 70,000 jobs since March 2008, part of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Job creation has been a significant obstacle in good times and bad. Connecticut's net job growth over the past 20 years has been zero, according to Yankee Institute of Hartford.

State Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, used that statistic during a Sept. 1 jobs forum at City Hall. In outlining a grim picture, he said personal bankruptcies in the second quarter rose 49 percent from the year-earlier period. The No. 1 concern of Connecticut residents is their jobs and the jobs of their loved ones, he said.

Business closures have hit 26,000 in the past two years, with 7,000 closing since January. These facts are shaping a demographic tide that will only worsen existing problems, including a projected $8 billion state government budget deficit, Coutu said.

"Our youth are leaving," he said. "That's not a good fact."

Connecticut's tax base is becoming more and more tied to conditions in New York's financial industry, said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who co-hosted the jobs forum with Coutu. Residents of Fairfield County, home to many Wall Street executives and traders, paid 46.8 percent of all Connecticut income taxes in 2007. The income tax is state government's largest revenue source, making up 41 percent of the take.

"The stock market had a hiccup and our income tax receipts fell 40 percent," Candelora said. "We're relying more and more on the stock market and that means more volatility."

While the Three Rivers entrepreneurial program aims at helping small businesses and the unemployed, Coutu and Candelora called upon the General Assembly and state agencies to stop causing difficulties for large, high-paying job creators, such as drugmaker Pfizer Inc. and data center operator Computer Sciences Corp.

"We need to have employers in order to have employees," Coutu said.