NH officials see promise in manufacturing, health care, tourism

Posted Sept. 02, 2012, at 5:45 a.m.

DOVER, N.H. — For job seekers in New Hampshire, advanced manufacturing, health care and tourism are among the industries that hold promise within the next several years, according to state officials.

Manufacturing, in particular, has become a major focus in the state, which is poised to add hundreds of new jobs in the field of advanced manufacturing in coming years.

However, securing those jobs will likely require a higher degree of training and education than the manufacturing jobs of the past, according to Michael Power, of the state’s Office of Workforce Opportunity.

“That’s our key,” Power said. “That’s our economic strength. Manufacturing pays the highest wage … and it’s huge. It’s a career path.”

OWO is among several state agencies helping to prepare the state’s workforce for occupations that will be available in the near future through job training programs and collaborations with the state’s universities and community colleges.

Power said most traditional manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to places like China and Mexico, where labor costs are drastically lower than in the United States. Jobs that remain are those that require knowledge; where machine workers previously calibrated equipment, today, they’re using math and computer skills to accomplish the same work, he said.

“There’s really a shrinking supply of job demand for labor that doesn’t require any skill,” Power said.

Annette Nielsen, an economist at the state’s Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, was hesitant to make a sweeping prediction about the state’s future employment picture — within the umbrella category of manufacturing, some companies will continue to shed jobs, she said.

“Going forward, that kind of growth that we saw in the ’80s and ’90s was definitely reduced in the 2000s, and most people don’t see some huge indication of why that would be going up,” she said.

However, Nielsen agreed companies in New Hampshire that specialize in advanced manufacturing are likely to see a need for replacement workers soon, even if they don’t add new jobs.

In October, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded New Hampshire a grant in the amount of close to $20 million to address the deficit of students graduating with skills in advanced manufacturing. The grant is being administered by Great Bay Community College, and will benefit a variety of institutions. Earlier this year, Great Bay President Will Arvelo said the school is beginning conversations with firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer to develop curriculum around computer-assisted machining, blueprint reading and technical writing. Similar partnerships are forming around the state between schools and manufacturing companies with a need for skilled labor.

“All of these manufacturers are really looking at the community colleges around the state,” said Jennifer Scotland, director of WorkReadyNH.

According to Scotland, manufacturers with a local presence that are expected to add at least 300 jobs in the next few years include Turbocam International, Sig Sauer, Albany International, Safran USA and ContiTech.

“Hands down, statewide, manufacturing is really coming back,” Scotland said.

WorkReadyNH is a program already in place at several community colleges in the state, and which will soon be expanding. The program was initiated following a series of conversations in 2010 between Gov. John Lynch and employers, who indicated they have jobs available, but not enough skilled workers to fill them. WorkReadyNH started in October 2011, funded by a grant from the New Hampshire Job Training Fund. The program is aimed at helping residents 18 and older who are either unemployed, or who work 30 hours per week or less, acquire new job skills.

The program focuses on developing “personal effectiveness competencies,” Scotland said, such as communication, teamwork and conflict resolution skills. Participants also prepare resumes and go through a mock job interview.

“We’re helping New Hampshire residents get those basic fundamental skills that just seem to need a little polishing up,” Scotland said.

Graduates receive a National Career Readiness certificate, which indicates proficiency in math, reading and problem solving. The certificate is currently recognized in 42 states. Scotland said part of her job is getting the word out to employers in New Hampshire that the certificate is a good indication of strong work skills.

The Job Training Fund also provides money to help workers develop skills outside of the community college system.

Power said the Office of Workforce Opportunity works with employers to offset the cost of training new workers or existing workers who require new skills. Employers who are willing to match a state grant are eligible to receive money from the Job Training Fund to pay the salaries of new hires or current workers in order for them to be trained.

The Job Training Fund was started late 2007, and since then, it has given out about $4.6 million in grants, according to Power. Employers have chipped in an estimated $7.2 million in matching funds, he said. Of the applicants to the job training fund, 85 percent have been manufacturers.

The state also runs an On-The-Job Training Program, funded by the Job Training Fund. People who are eligible for the program are paired with employers and added to their payrolls while they undergo training. In return, the state pays the employer 50 percent to 90 percent of the employee’s wages for up to six months if the new hire was previously unemployed.

Although much attention has been paid to the importance of advanced manufacturing in the state, it’s the health care industry that is projected to see the largest growth between now and 2020, according to Nielsen. She said the state’s aging population is one factor contributing the growth.

New Hampshire offers two big grant programs to assist workers preparing for health care careers. One, the Health Professional Opportunity Project, provides tuition funding for low-income people seeking degrees in the health care industry.

Another program available to assist people seeking to land a health care job is NH Direct Connect. It’s a three-year program funded by the Department of Labor with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. The program offers participants access to scholarships and training.

“DirectConnect was created to address the growing need for additional direct care workers in N.H. and to improve training and educational opportunities for workers pursuing careers in this field,” reads a statement on the DirectConnect website.

Nielsen said tourism is another industry where jobs are likely to be available in the near future. In New Hampshire, Nielsen said, the job sectors that consistently offer the greatest number of available positions are: office and administrative support; sales and related occupations (such as retail); and food preparation and serving.

“In the White Mountains and on the Seacoast, there will always be a need for hotels and restaurants,” Nielsen said.

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©2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)

Visit the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) at www.fosters.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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