Although funding to train opportunity youths and low-skill adults has steadily declined in recent years, Jim Boucher, chief strategy officer for Capital Workforce Partners in Hartford, is growing confident those dollars could be revived.
With tens of thousands of job openings annually in Connecticut, Boucher said the need to train unskilled workers is slowly making a comeback among federal, state and private funders.
But for now, workforce officials working with untapped populations are operating with just a fraction of the funds they managed years ago.
Since 2001, for example, federal funding for adult education has fallen 21 percent to $582 million in 2017, according to the National Skills Coalition. Meantime, another 16.4 percent cut is proposed for 2018.
Nationally, funding earmarked for career and technical education programs has dropped by $560 million since 2001 to $1.1 billion last year. Over that time, the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which provides workforce development funding to states and local communities, has been cut by $1.7 billion to $2.7 billion.
In north central Connecticut, Boucher says state funding since 2015 has been reduced by almost $3 million for four workforce training programs, which has reduced Capital Workforce Partners' investments in programs supporting ex-offenders, low-skilled adults and opportunity youths, he said.
Funding for CWP's Summer Youth Employment and Learning program was restored to $4 million this year after the state removed all of its funding in fiscal 2017. Boucher said the program was receiving $5.5 million just a few years ago.
Boucher argues that investment in up-skilling residents pays for itself. He points to a 2016 study by Maryland's Department of Labor, which found the average local economy will gain $3 for every dollar spent on workforce training.
"Many other states have been able to do it on a much greater scale than Connecticut," Boucher said of other states supporting workforce development funding growth.