Education is the key to addressing New Hampshire’s labor challenges, but schools, employers and government need to work together to create robust career pipelines, participants at a workforce development forum said.
Speakers at last week’s event organized by New Hampshire College and University Council, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire included officials representing K-12 education, community colleges, private and public universities and the business sector. They discussed efforts to maintain a strong workforce a time when fewer workers are moving into the state, high school graduates are leaving and the existing workforce is aging.
Katie Merrow, of the Charitable Foundation, highlighted research by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies that shows New Hampshire’s working-age population is expected to dip to its lowest total in 25 years in 2025.
“Think of the challenges of hiring today, and subtract 50,000 people from that pool. That’s what we’re talking about,” she said. And while efforts to attract new workers or tap into the skills of older residents are important, “strengthening that pipeline of education and credentialing for our young people is really the key strategy that will get us there,” she said.
Reaching a goal
The forum participants are part of “65 X 25,” an initiative to ensure that 65 percent of New Hampshire adults have degrees or other high-value credentials by 2025. Right now, only half of working-age adults have those qualifications.
Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, said the state should take advantage of its strong economy now to make sure it’s prepared when things take a turn in the future.
“No matter where you go, if you look at where there have been successful economic development initiatives … it is in locations where there are strong partnerships and collaborations with educational institutions,” he said.
Frank Edelbut, commissioner of the Department of Education, said he wants to improve integration between K-12 schools, higher education and businesses. He highlighting programs that allow high school students to take community college courses, saying, “the lines between these systems need to be blurred,” but said students need more help planning for future careers so they can transition smoothly.
University System of New Hampshire Chancellor Todd Leach said it’s not just about schools competing for students, but states competing for workforces. And only about 40 percent of the state’s high school graduates going on to four-year colleges choose New Hampshire campuses.
“We’re exporting the highest percentage of any state in midst of having a very serious workforce problem,” he said.