Workforce development advocates from across Connecticut, including Capital Workforce Partners’ President and CEO Alex Johnson, met recently via video meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal to discuss workforce development needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting was an opportunity for advocates to share their thoughts on how Sen. Blumenthal could provide assistance during this crisis. “As I think about the challenges before us, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there are large numbers of individuals who were not employed prior to this downturn,” said Johnson. “[In addition to] those who are dislocated, returning citizens, our low-literate adults, our young people and individuals on public assistance, we have to be thoughtful to ensure that we are also providing opportunities for them to compete in this economy.”

Sen. Blumenthal also recognized that the challenge of workforce development was real and pressing even before the pandemic. “Now, even more so than ever before, we need to make sure that we provide people with the skills they need for the jobs of the present and the future,” said the senator.

Sen. Blumenthal noted that he has co-led a letter with Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR), dated April 21, 2020, that urges the leaders of the Senate – Senators [Chuck] Schumer (NY) and [Mitch] McConnell (KY) to add $15.1 billion to the next phase of emergency relief efforts. “These are funds that would go for not only the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act…, youth and adult education, layoff aversion funds and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislation, but also funding that is necessary for the organizations that are represented on this call,” he said.

Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby attended the meeting and expressed to the senator the need for building technology infrastructure in the workforce development system. “We have aging infrastructure as you very well know.” Westby also praised the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act (RAWA). “This is a home run,” said Westby. “I think the RAWA proposed legislation is fantastic…especially the focus on youth unemployment work experience.”

While Johnson acknowledged that funding is critical at this time, he added that we also need to make sure that we’re working collaboratively to build the structures we need to build. “As we think about opening up the economy, we also have to be thoughtful about how we are preparing the workforce to ensure that they are able to participate in the growth that we anticipate.” Johnson also noted that the American Job Centers are “open for business” and engaging with customers virtually.

Several organizations attended the video call with Sen. Blumenthal. Those attendees who provided comments during conversation, in addition to Johnson and Westby, were the following advocates: Garrett Moran, chair of the Governor’s Workforce Council; William Villano, Workforce Alliance; Catherine Awwad, Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board, Inc.; Joseph Carbone, The Workplace, Inc.; Robert Rader, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education; and Betty Sugarman Weintraub, Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority.

The group raised topics ranging from the need for technology improvements to support for mental health challenges, and from support to counter the summer jobs crisis to investments in online learning.

Sen. Blumenthal reminded the group that now is the time to come together in a non-partisan basis. “There is nothing Republican or Democratic about a job, as I know others have said. And there is nothing necessarily Republican or Democrat about conquering this disease. We need to do it together.”

“There is a need for a long-term commitment,” Sen. Blumenthal added. “We are in a marathon here, and not a sprint.”

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