Op-ed | ‘Bravo for bipartisan bridge building in Bristol’ [Hartford Courant]

April 17, 2023

As published in the Hartford Courant:


We must connect out-of-work people with good Connecticut jobs.


That’s a concept that Democrats and Republicans at all levels of government can — and do — agree on.


The good news? Those connections are now happening in downtown Bristol, and they have the potential to send positive economic ripples across our state. (“Bristol aims to fight high jobless rate”, Apr. 5)


Some quick math:  There are about 97,000 jobs available today in Connecticut, yet there are only about 75,000 people who are unemployed. So, let’s get to solving that 75,000 problem.  That’s what the new BristolWORKS! training center’s instructors are focusing on with local, state and federal backing and the goal of a self-sustaining operation by 2025.


BristolWORKS! trains individuals for available jobs.  Neighborhood jobs. Accessible jobs. Jobs for vets, refugees, and those who may or may not have high school diplomas. From “eds and meds” — education and health care — to manufacturing and information technology, the program provides pathways to opportunity.


Speaking of diplomas: Connecticut cannot fill its workforce needs unless it reaches people who graduate from high school with no jobs and those who don’t graduate at all.  Those are the individuals who are going to come to the BristolWORKS! program, and we need to find them. That’s a challenge, but it’s an achievable goal nonetheless.


Another challenge? People want to work.  They want jobs.  But in many cases, these same individuals are receiving federal and state benefits. As policymakers, we need to bridge them into the workforce. We need to build a bridge for them so they don’t lose all their benefits as they become gainfully employed. That benefits cliff is a one of many obstacles to jobs connections that we need to address.


On a related note, April is Financial Literacy Month.  What better time to raise awareness about the importance of personal budgeting?  Our Senate Republican Caucus recently unveiled “A Better Way to a Prosperous Connecticut”  — a package of legislative proposals aimed at bolstering Connecticut’s workforce and addressing shortages in key industries while also requiring financial literacy education in Connecticut schools.


Why financial literacy? You might be surprised to learn that many teenagers are shocked to realize they will one day have to pay their own cell phone bill as well as other monthly bills. That’s a problem.  Our students must learn how to budget, create a spending plan, balance needs vs. wants, understand credit, and look for the best places to save.


On the flipside, if students do not learn how to budget, they will have lifelong challenges in living within their means and in saving for retirement. Many will not have enough to pay their bills. Through education, we can give young men and women a practical way to help their parents and their families.  Let’s empower kids — starting as early as middle school — to help them take charge of their futures and give them the tools they need to succeed. This idea, we are pleased to say, is also picking up bipartisan steam.


So bravo to Bristol for leading the way in workforce development. Similar workforce programs in Wallingford are setting young people up for career success. HUBCAP Wallingford, a local hybrid business incubator, is bridging the gap between students looking to enter the workforce and businesses, start-ups and the community.


BristolWORKS! has us all focused on solutions to unemployment and talking in bipartisan fashion about best practices. Sound refreshing?  We agree.  Let’s keep the momentum going, Connecticut. Keep building those pathways and bridges.