More than 110,000 jobs in Connecticut remain open. Here’s why employers wage a ‘constant battle’ to hire. – Hartford Courant


Electric Boat is hiring welders as fast as the submarine manufacturer can find them. Highland Park Market is looking for entry-level supermarket workers. And during blistering heat spells this summer, broken air conditioners went without repairs for lack of technicians.

In Connecticut and across the U.S., employers in nearly all industries are scrambling to find workers who quit during the pandemic, retired or are stymied by a lack of transportation and day care.

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“Everyone is out hiring,” said Cathy White, director of talent acquisition at Electric Boat. “Competition is fierce for skilled labor.”

The subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp. faces U.S. Navy deadlines to manufacture two nuclear submarines a year, in addition to the start of production of its next-generation Columbia class, setting a pace only imagined a few years ago.

Electric Boat, with shipyards in Groton and Quonset Point, Rhode Island, expects to hire 500 welders this year at starting pay of nearly $22 an hour, White said. Hiring managers use various strategies such as “walk-in Wednesday” sessions at the company’s employment office; job fairs; outreach to high schools, technical schools and colleges; and appearances at events such as Military Appreciation Day in New London in August, a summer boat festival in Hartford and the Travelers Championship in June.

Timothy Devanney, one of the owners of Highland Park Market, which operates three supermarkets in Farmington, Glastonbury and Manchester, said hiring is a “constant battle.”

Ten applicants will respond to one job posting and managers will reach four. Two will come to the interview and one will be hired. It’s a “50-50 shot” if the successful job-seeker shows up for work, he said.

Highland Park Market, which closed two hours earlier, at 7 p.m., during the pandemic, has kept the reduced hours due the labor shortage, Devanney said.

Stop & Shop, which said it’s hiring for all departments, shifts and jobs, scheduled a hiring fair in August to fill more than 400 permanent, part-time e-commerce and store jobs, including positions in the bakery, deli, grocery, seafood and produce departments. The supermarket chain hired 185 part-time workers for its Connecticut stores as a result of the job fair. Openings remain for overnight shifts, cashiers, porters, baggers and home shoppers.

Police departments, too, are grappling with shortages brought on by retirements and difficulty finding candidates, said John Ventura, chief of the Wallingford Police Department. “People are not going into law enforcement. It’s not an attractive landing pad for people,” he said.

Employment opportunities that once drew 500 to 1,000 prospective candidates now attract fewer than a dozen, Ventura said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday 113,000 job openings in Connecticut in July, forcing employers to figure out how to find workers or get around shortages by offering more overtime and cutting hours of operation. Nationally, 11.2 million open jobs in July increased from 11 million in June.

The number of job openings is 41% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic when available jobs in Connecticut didn’t exceed 80,000, said Patrick Flaherty, director of research at the state Department of Labor.

The state Department of Labor reported 77,800 unemployed workers in August, or 35,200 fewer than the number of job postings. In comparison, in pre-pandemic 2019 68,700 jobless workers outnumbered 65,000 open jobs.

“This is both a Connecticut issue and a national issue,” Flaherty said. “Unfortunately, some people in the labor force before the pandemic have not returned. Some died. Some were sick with COVID.”

Economist Donald Klepper-Smith cautioned against reading too much into the job openings data published by federal officials. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on significant changes to the economy, he said: shortages of labor and supplies, high inflation after years of price stability and an abrupt change in work as employees operate from their homes.

“People try to explain in simple terms, there are more jobs than people,” he said. “There’s a lot of extrapolation with that. It’s a squishy number.”

The sectors with the greatest number of of open jobs are health care and social assistance, retail, manufacturing and finance and insurance, according to Connecticut’s Help Wanted Online Data Series.

Worker shortages are so acute in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning business that employers have a “very hard time” taking on new customers, said Stillman Jordan, government affairs chairman of the Connecticut Heating and Cooling Contractors Association.

At peak demand during this summer’s heat waves, air conditioning repair workers couldn’t be found, he said.

Rob Friedland, chief executive officer of Columbia Manufacturing Inc., which makes turbine engine components, said welders and inspectors with aviation experience are the hardest workers to find.

He’s “pretty much abandoned hope” of finding experienced welders and instead hires young workers who are trained at the manufacturer in Columbia after completing their schooling, he said.

Friedland said a shortage of welders, who are in demand in numerous industries such as construction and manufacturing, will get worse as commercial aviation rebounds from its low point during the pandemic when airline fleets were grounded

“We’re all going to be looking for people,” he said. “I’m not expecting it to get better anytime soon.”

Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said the worker shortage tracks the state’s stagnant population that has been largely unchanged since the recession of 2008-2009.

More housing is needed, particularly close to public transportation, and can be encouraged with incentives for builders to renovate blighted housing, he said.

DiPentima also cited Connecticut’s cost of living, taking aim at the state’s gift tax he said “comes into play” with business successions. Connecticut is the only state that imposes the tax, according to the Tax Foundation, a tax policy research group.

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No uniform explanation applies for worker shortages. Flaherty said for every worker “missing” from the labor force “there’s probably a reason and a strategy.”

Jordan blamed the shortage of heating and cooling repair workers on an emphasis of college over trade schools and restrictive state policies in Connecticut, disputed by organized labor, that limit the number of apprentices that can be hired.

Local police shortages are the result of abundant opportunities at other agencies, Ventura said. A study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police said recruitment troubles are due to “multiple social, political, and economic forces” that include an increasing emphasis by employees on work-life balance and public perception of police following high-profile police shootings.

Conglomerates are feeling the impact of worker shortages that are magnified because of the size of the businesses. CEO Greg Hayes said Raytheon Technologies Corp., the parent company of jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney and two military and intelligence units, began the year with 174,000 employees. The Arlington, Virginia-based company has hired more than 23,000 workers this year, about half of whom are engineers, he said Wednesday at an industry analysts’ conference.

About 15,000 employees have left the company and after hiring, 13,000 jobs remain open, he said.

“That is the challenge that we all have is: Where are all those workers going to come from?” Hayes said.

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.

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More than 110,000 jobs in Connecticut remain open. Here’s why employers wage a ‘constant battle’ to hire. – Hartford Courant

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