April 2021


Chief Regional Workforce Development Officers Are Making a Difference

Peltier (first row, center) is pictured above in a virtual meeting with Congressman Joe Courtney, (bottom row, center).

The Connecticut State Community College chief regional workforce development officers are creating statewide and regional workforce development initiatives and training programs for both job seekers and the business community to meet the need for in-demand jobs. Since beginning their roles last summer, the workforce officers have secured more than $6 million in statewide and regional grant funding, created new initiatives, and represented the future college statewide and nationally – even before it is a fully accredited institution.

Diane Bordonaro, Eileen Peltier, and Kristina Testa-Buzzee were named workforce development officers in July 2020 and represent the 12 community colleges in their respective regions. In this role, they create new partnerships, maximize resources, and identify efficiencies in workforce training programs. They also provide strategic leadership to the campuses’ workforce development and continuing education departments, especially those focused on relationships with business and industry. 

Bordonaro represents the Capital-East Region that includes Capital, Manchester, Middlesex, Three Rivers, Quinebaug Valley Community Colleges, and reports to Dr. Rob Steinmetz, the regional president. Peltier represents the North-West Region that includes Asnuntuck, Naugatuck Valley, Northwestern, and Tunxis Community Colleges, and reports to Dr. James Lombella. Testa-Buzzee represents the Shoreline-West Region which includes Gateway, Housatonic, Norwalk , and reports to Dr. Thomas Coley.

"Having the three chief regional workforce development officers in place has made it easier to meet the needs of area employers and job seekers in a streamlined and effective manner,” said Lombella, Regional President, North-West. “They have been able to turn system-wide proposals for training funds around with unprecedented speed. They are also working closely to align programs and processes across the three regions so that students have the same high-quality experience regardless of which campus they enroll in. We are already seeing results in terms of a better student experience and stronger relationships with our funders and external partners."
Bernadette Park, a partner with Social Venture Partners-CT, and aGovernor’s Workforce Council Career & Education committee member, said that working with Connecticut State Community College’s three point people was instrumental in quickly securing CARES Act funding to train more than 300 displaced workers within three months – an effort that would not have been as successful if working separately with each community college.

“The efficiency and flexibility of working with just three key point people makes CSCU an attractive partner to work with on future projects. By collaborating with regional workforce development boards, educators, employers, state agencies, and community partners, they are creating lasting partnerships that will improve the outcomes of Connecticut’s workforce,” said Park.

She said the CARES Act allied health care training program was an example of a successful statewide effort to quickly retrain displaced workers for employer identified in-demand allied health roles during COVID-19.

“This was a regional sector partnership, using a regional training approach to offer certificate-level educational programs offered through the community colleges,” added Park. “The three regional workforce development officers played a critical role in the success of this initiative. They were able to quickly redesign programs and turn around proposals.  In a very tight timeframe, they helped secure $1.3 million in CARES Act funding, and the initiative successfully trained over 300 displaced workers within three months.  The new structure allowed for a nimble, fast response to the demands of this fast-moving project. Had we needed to work with 12 individual campuses, I am confident we would not have met with the same level of success.”

Accomplishments and Strategic Initiatives
Since last year, the workforce development officers have accomplished much in grant funding, strategic initiatives, and presenting at conferences.  
“In a short time, the regional workforce development officers have implemented strategic goals and initiatives leading to multiple positive tangible outcomes,” said Steinmetz, the Capital-East regional president. “From increased grant funding to more effective communications both within the regions and statewide, I have been impressed and encouraged by the rapid enhancements within our workforce systems. As we continue to move forward, the impact of this more cohesive and visionary approach on our students, campuses and local economies will continue to expand.”
Some initiatives include:

  • Meetings of Functional Teams Across the Region
    Continuing education, SNAP education and training, and business and industry training staff have been meeting from across the campuses to identify best practices, share resources and curricula, streamline processes, and support each other.
  • Course Sharing
    Course sharing began pre-COVID and allows students from one college to take classes at another college. This initiative piloted in fall 2019, with the pharmacy technician program between Tunxis and Northwestern Connecticut Community Colleges. Course sharing also allows the colleges to avoid canceling low-enrolled classes and offers more opportunities and educational access for students to pursue their career goals.
  • The Apprenticeship Model
    The Apprenticeship model uses Department of Labor funds for employers to send incumbent workers for free manufacturing training. Tuition is paid for by the Department of Labor with salary reimbursement for two years. This program has been expanded beyond the initial campus and is poised to continue growing. 
  • Program Alignment
    Continuing Education department staff have been meeting to align their programming in terms of accrediting and licensing bodies, program length, curricula, externships, and class materials.
  • Staggering Start Dates
    Staggering start dates of programs across campuses allows more flexibility for students. Instead of waiting weeks or months for a new class to start, students can simply enroll at another campus in a reasonable time frame. The regional structure has encouraged campuses to collaborate rather than compete, to the benefit of students.
  • Statewide Phlebotomy Externship Contract with Hartford Healthcare
    The phlebotomy externship contract with Hartford Healthcare started with Capital-East and expanded to the other two regions. This agreement will greatly expand the colleges’ ability to offer externships to students in this in-demand field and has strengthened the colleges' relationship with this major Connecticut employer.
  • Regional Business and Industry Team
    A regional Business and Industry team has been formed and is currently conducting an analysis of the industry needs in the region.

Alex Johnson, President and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners, said these initiatives have streamlined the contracting process and help support under employed people in their region.

“The regional workforce development officers have significantly streamlined the contracting process between Capital Workforce Partners and the community colleges in our service area, where MOAs with the North-West and Capital-East regions are able to replace numerous MOAs with individual colleges,” said Johnson. “This further increases consistency and accountability in the non-credit, credential-based training programs we facilitate to support un/under-employed individuals in north-central Connecticut, such as the recent Workforce Training Innovation Fund Statewide Healthcare Training effort.”

Regional Grant Funding
Working within the new community college structure, the workforce development officers have successfully secured $6.3 million in regional funding since July 2020, when they began in their new positions.

“The work of the workforce development officers has been clearly effective in responding to opportunities for grant funding and partnership building with employers and workforce-related entities,” said Coley, the regional president of Shoreline-West. “They continue to identify ways to reduce redundancies and increase efficiencies within regions and across the state. Through their efforts, we have come to understand and appreciate that it is critical to have the regional workforce development structure with its officers as identifiable points of contact able to facilitate coordination among our campuses. With this in mind, we have the means to help deliver timely and effective responses to workforce training opportunities that meet the demands of job seekers and employers across Connecticut.”
These grants include: 

  • A consortium of five Connecticut community colleges, led by Norwalk Community College, received a $3.4 million Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grant from the United States Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration. The grant, awarded to Norwalk, Gateway, Housatonic, Middlesex, and Tunxis Community Colleges, funds a project known as Connecticut Statewide Healthcare Industry Pathways (CT SHIP). The project aims to expand the colleges’ capacity to deliver accelerated training in high-demand health care career pathways.
  • The Governor’s Workforce Council awarded a $762,663 grant for CSCU to serve 100 students in seven community colleges that received funding. The grant included $1,000 in support funds for each student and $7,000 for equipment per program.
  • Capital Workforce Partners (CWP) awarded a $725,000 grant under the State of Connecticut Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative to provide short-term training in healthcare and manufacturing. CWP also awarded CSCU a grant of $594,559 in CARES Act funding to provide accelerated short-term training to Connecticut residents displaced by COVID.
  • The Wells Fargo Foundation accepted one application for three schools in the Shoreline-West Region and granted $75,000 to be used by the three schools for emergency support for students.       
  • Working with Norwalk and Housatonic Community Colleges, Bank of America awarded $200,000 for accelerated Health Care workforce training for dislocated Hospitality and Retail employees.
  • The Office of Early Childhood Grant provided a $600,000 grant for childcare support to students enrolled in SNAP Employment and Training.
  • A $212,000 ADA grant from the Department of Labor Department of Labor for all 12 campuses was to provide support staffing and equipment for use by and with students with disabilities.
  • The $40,000 Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Grant was for relief funding for non-credit and workforce development students who are not eligible for federal Pell funds or CARES COVID relief aid funds.       

National Conferences
The three workforce development officers also represented the CSCU on the national stage, and presented “CT Partnerships for Reskilling and Re-Employment” as part of the Reskilling and Recovery Network, an initiative of the National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices and the American Association of Community Colleges, with support from Siemens Foundation and Lumina Foundation.

Testa-Buzzee’s presentation, with co-presenter Karen Woczyna-Birch, director of the College of Technology, focused on CARES Act funded training provided to Connecticut citizens affected by COVID through job loss or other impacts and on the College of Technology. Bordonaro and Peltier also presented on lessons learned from participating in the network and how these lessons will inform their workforce development work going forward. David Levinson, Interim President of Connecticut State Community College, also led a presentation.

In addition, Eileen Peltier presented on “Lessons Learned from Scaling Up” at the national SNAP Employment and Training National Forum about SNAP Employment and Training programs at the Connecticut Community Colleges.

"Funders and other external partners have commented favorably on the ease of working with just three people for workforce development, rather than identifying contacts on each of the 12 campuses,” said Peltier. “The regional structure allows us to be more responsive to employer and student needs, to work more collaboratively, and to support our staff and faculty by sharing resources and identifying best practices across the campuses. We no longer are incentivized to compete against each other for funders, employers, students, and resources. We are stronger when we work together."
Recently, the workforce development officers, regional presidents, Capital Workforce Partners staff, United Way and Workforce Alliance, met with the offices of U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Jahana Hayes, Jim Himes, John Larson, Joe Courtney, and U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. They discussed the importance of investing in skills training and the workforce as part of an inclusive economic recovery. They also discussed the importance of Pell grant expansion to include non-credit workforce credentialing programs and inmates in correctional facilities. 
The three workforce development officers look forward to securing more funding to provide workforce training across their regions, streamlining and enhancing programs and processes, and identifying new and innovative opportunities for the community college system.

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