Anyone looking for easy answers to Hartford’s unemployment problems found little comfort Monday night at a meeting on job creation held at the Hartford Public Library.
The meeting was held by Hartford City Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee in conjunction with the library and moderated by Councilman Matt Ritter. Panelists were David Samuels of the Community Party, Ron Walker, a job developer for Chrysalis and Tom Phillips, CEO and President of Capital Workforce Partners.
Phillips did say that Hartford, due to its demographics, could become a prime source for workers in the future but it will take a concerted effort by all parties involved to take advantage of that opportunity. He explained that one of Connecticut’s major problems in relation to employment is that it has the 8th oldest population in the state. In upcoming years, this will lead to a labor shortage which will make it hard for the state to retain businesses. Hartford, on the other hand, has the youngest population in the state and could therefore become a prime source of workers in the future, Phillips said. He added that a labor shortage would also mean that employers would have to look into hiring from sectors of the population that have traditionally had trouble getting jobs, such as ex-offenders and the working poor.
But it is not that simple. Workers have to be given the skills employers are looking for and the region and the state are not doing enough to develop those skills, said Phillips. “I’ve got a guy in New Britain who could hire seven CNC operators tomorrow, but he can’t find anyone with the right skills...we’ve got to stop training for the sake of training, educating for the sake of educating. We have to develop a demand-driven system.” To help create such a system will require closer cooperation between government, schools and – most importantly – businesses. “If the product [potential workers] coming out of the schools is not what they need, they [business leaders] must help change the curriculum,” said Phillips.
Walker also called for increased business involvement in order to get ex-offenders on the job and off the streets. “Without a business commitment, we’re going to be having this discussion [about the lack of jobs for city residents] for a long time,” he said.
One business-owner in the audience was blunt about employment prospects in Hartford. “As long as the taxes are high in Hartford and the crime rate is high, businesses won’t come here. Not from New York, not from Massachusetts, not from anywhere...reduce the taxes and fight the crime and they [businesses] will come,” he said.
Samuels questioned whether stimulus money was doing enough to address the earning gap that still exists between whites and minorities. “We need targeted job creation for those communities with the highest unemployment,” he said. Samuels also said that his organization, The Community Party, has scheduled a meeting at Hartford City Hall on Saturday, March 20, from 10 am to 12 noon. The theme of the meeting, according to a flyer distributed at the meeting, will be “Where are the jobs?”
Community activist Hyacinth Yennie also questioned whether job creation programs will assist those who need help. In reference to the MDC’s massive Clean Water Project, Yennie said, “Contractors are coming from all over and they bring their people with them...what I want to know is, what are we going to do legislatively to make sure that more Hartford people get those jobs?” The bulk of the MDC work will be done in Hartford. Ritter responded that the City itself cannot do much since the MDC serves several towns and any legislation would have to be on a state level.
Another member of the audience said she and many of her friends are college graduates working low-level jobs because they cannot find openings in the fields they were trained for. “The problem with that,” she said, “is that when we have to take those jobs to pay the bills, we’re taking those jobs away from other sectors of society who have fewer options.”
In his closing statement, Phillips said there must be a major change in job creation efforts. “The paradigm [model] that’s been in place for the past 40 years isn’t working anymore,” he said.