Sen. Martin: “We need to find them…and bridge them to the workforce.”

April 5, 2023

Bristol aims to fight high jobless rate

Federal funds to be used to help connect residents, good jobs



Faced with a doggedly high unemployment rate, Bristol has directed a hefty share of its American Rescue Plan Act aid to a new campaign to connect out-of-work residents with good jobs.

The plan to use $2.4 million in federal aid for BristolWORKS!, Bristol’s new campaign against unemployment, brought a rare showing of bipartisan applause, with Democratic and Republican leaders praising the decision.

At a new training center downtown, instructors will conduct programs — free to Bristol residents — in four growth fields: manufacturing, health care, information technology and early childhood education.

The center is working with various agencies and nonprofits to help arrange child care, transportation or other help to make the classes feasible for parents, people without cars and others.

“We’re going to help people who are underemployed and even unemployed get jobs. That’s great for us for economic and community development,” Republican Mayor Jeff Caggiano said Monday at a ribbon-cutting at the BristolWORKS! office downtown.

Caggiano and Republican state Sen. Henri Martin pointedly thanked the two senior members of the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation for getting Bristol’s city government and school system more than $40 million in ARPA funds. Local leaders decided to use $2.4 million of that for infrastructure and startup costs for BristolWORKS!, with the goal that the operation is self-sustaining in 2025.

“Thank you, mayor, for your leadership,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “Great things are happening in Bristol. Bristol is on the move.”

In addition to extended jobs training programs, BristolWORKS! will offer free sessions on preparing resumes, interviewing, schedule dependability and more.

U.S. Rep. John Larson called the idea “a model for the country,” noting that its staff will help participants with child care, transportation and other obstacles to taking classes.

“Connecticut has this tremendous opportunity in that we have jobs available that are looking for workers,” said Paul Lavoie, the state’s chief manufacturing officer. “We need to take a look at what’s preventing people from getting back into the workforce. Things like BristolWORKS! are part of the solution.”

So far, all training is done at night, but Director Kim Ward Holley said there’s a plan for daytime classes in the fall to accommodate parents of school-age children. A group of industry leaders has helped guide what the classes teach to ensure that the training leads to available jobs, she said.

“When participants leave BristolWORKS!, we want them to be confident and comfortable in their transition to preparing for the workforce, she said. “We also want local employers to be confident when they receive someone who completed the training.”

She noted that Kind Care, an assisted living center preparing to open a half-block away, is looking to hire 70 staffers by the summer. The company joined with Bristol Adult Education, Tunxis Community College and BristolWORKS! to arrange training for a group of Ukrainian immigrants, she said.

“Together we are working to help these refugees from Ukraine to learn English, complete training programs and acquire job skills,” she said.
The program is open to all residents, and people from nearby communities can participate for a fee. Blumenthal said he’s gratified that veterans and refugees from Ukraine are special target groups that it will try to reach. And the focus on manufacturing careers, especially in defense industries, is important to national security, he added.

In February, 1,776 city adults were out of work, putting Bristol’s unemployment rate at 5.4 percent, according to data from the state department of labor.

That was among the 15 highest rates in the state, with Waterbury and Hartford tied for worst at 6.8 percent. Statewide, unemployment averaged 4.6 percent for the month.

“There are 100,000 jobs available today in our state. They are (only) 57,000 people that are unemployed,” Martin said, declaring that Connecticut can’t fill its workforce needs unless it reaches people who graduate high school with no jobs and those who don’t graduate at all.

“They are the ones who are going to come to this program. We need to find them. In addition, there are the people receiving federal and state benefits. They would love to go to work, they want jobs,” Martin said. “We need to bridge them to the workforce. We need to build a bridge for them so they don’t lose all their benefits as they transition to the workforce.”