James Larson

Yale President Peter Salovey and five other higher education leaders participated in a Tuesday afternoon discussion about workforce development, retention and the coronavirus pandemic at a virtual policy summit hosted by the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.

The event, officially titled the GNHCC Annual Policy Summit & End of Summer Connect, focused on workforce development and talent strategy in New Haven and Southern Connecticut. Salovey and other local higher education leaders shared how their universities were responding to changes in the job market and encouraging relevant skillbuilding. Other workforce development experts made remarks on Connecticut’s labor market and the need for greater integration between corporations and universities to meet the talent needs of local companies.

“Now, as we struggle through the pandemic it’s even more important and the stakes have been raised on workforce development, unemployment has soared, the digital economy has accelerated, business has changed and jobs have disappeared,” Garrett Sheehan, president of the GNHCC, said in his opening remarks. “Our businesses need the best talent to succeed.”

The GNHCC, which celebrated its 225th anniversary last year, aims to shape public policy in the region, foster business growth and support its member businesses. It also maintains a relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Jason Tyszko, vice president of Center for Education and Workforce at U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, presented on talent pipeline management — a new initiative that preaches a demand-driven approach to workforce development by adapting supply chain management tenets to the labor market.

The centerpiece of the summit, however, was a panel discussion featuring local university leaders including Salovey, Quinnipiac President Judy Olian, UNH President Steve Kaplan, Albertus Magnus President Marc Camille, SCSU President Joe Bertolino and GCC CEO Terry Brown. Each leader discussed what their universities were doing to address gaps in the job market and prepare students for the workforce.

“It’s not as big of a brain drain as some may think. [Connecticut] is still the second or third most common destination for someone with a new bachelor’s degree from Yale,” Salovey said during the panel discussion. “We have found that students are more likely to stay if they’ve had an opportunity to engage with the community here during their studies.”

Salovey also highlighted different ways that Yale has been adapting its academic and extracurricular offerings to ongoing changes in the local and national economy. He mentioned that Yale encourages innovation through spaces like the Tsai Center and the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design, prepares students for a quantitative world through new data science investment and addresses labor shortages in fields like nursing. He also added that the traditional liberal arts education offered by Yale produces graduates with adaptable skills.

Other leaders referenced their own skills and certificate programs. Olian and Camille both pointed out their universities’ respective programs for adult learners. In particular, Olian said that today’s economy requires workers to reskill and upskill throughout their careers. Kaplan, on the other hand, focused on how UNH is a leader in preparing students for jobs as engineers and cybersecurity experts in Connecticut’s defense industry.

The panel of university presidents and other invited speakers stressed that academic institutions, governments and businesses must collaborate in order to meet the region’s workforce needs. Brown and Bertolino both hailed the continuing education program between their two institutions as an example of possible collaboration.

Following the panel, several workforce development professionals addressed the webinar, including Garrett Moran, chairman of the Governor’s Workforce Council.

“Academics and businesses speak a different language from one another almost literally,” Moran said when asked how universities and businesses could work better together. “So, there’s a communication issue. There’s also a leadership issue… Right now, [attracting talent] is nobody’s job when you think about systematic change. So, I meet universities and companies all the time that are trying to do things on their own. The collective action in this area is really essential.”

Mostly geared towards GNHCC’s members and other business partners, other speakers included Bill Villano of the Workforce Alliance and Melissa Mason of New Haven Works. Both emphasized how their organizations could connect businesses to potential employees and help train existing ones.

Outside of discussions about workforce development, the university presidents also detailed their reopening plans for this fall.

“All of us are working in similar ways to keep our campuses safe and protect the health of the surrounding community,” Salovey said during the panel. “Everybody is wearing masks, everybody is social distancing… I am proud of the way they have adhered to the recommendations that we make for them, requirements really, to protect the health of each other, themselves and especially the Greater New Haven community.”

All of the local universities have testing programs, social distancing recommendations and virtual learning options in effect for the new school year. Each institution — besides GCC, which does not have residential options for students — has welcomed back at least some of its student body to on-campus residential halls.

Eight Yalies tested positive for the coronavirus over the week ending on Aug. 30, according to the most recent data available on Tuesday night. Connecticut saw 839 positive cases over the same seven-day period.

Jose Davila currently serves as a Public Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale-New Haven Relations as a staff reporter and served as a Managing Editor. He is a senior in Morse College majoring in Global Affairs.