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Companies Connect With Colleges for Customized Training
Published Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Watts Water Technologies in Franklin first approached Lakes Region Community College in 2015 for a customized training program to teach employees about blueprint reading and gauging. The college created a program and trained 67 employees onsite.

Shortly after that, the provider of plumbing, heating, and water quality solutions was looking to drastically upgrade its equipment. But in order to do that, it was going to have to train at least 26 employees on how to program, set up and run the equipment. So they turned to the college once again.

Programs like this are not cheap. Mike LaBrecque, a former Watts employee turned LRCC instructor, says the course for working on the upgraded equipment cost about $125,000, but a NH Job Training Fund Grant, a state program that helps fund worker training, reduced the price by $55,000.

Meanwhile, over at Nashua Community College, school officials have been working with BAE Systems to design a custom bootcamp in microelectronics. BAE donated the equipment. The class prepares participants for an entry-level wire bonding position and students, who pay $5,500 for the class, are guaranteed an interview with BAE.

So why are employers investing money and time in customized training? There are a few different answers.

“The economic downturn caused many companies to cut their training budgets. While that may have improved the bottom line in the short term, the lack of focus on training and succession planning has caught up to them, making it even more difficult to fill key positions internally … Some companies engage us because they are feeling  the pain of [untrained future managers], while others can see what’s coming and are being proactive,” says Dan McCarthy, director of executive development programs at the University of NH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics in Durham.

Another reason to invest in employee training is employee retention. Officials at Great Bay Community College report that employers are seeking more short-term trainings and bootcamps, some of which earn employees credits that can be used toward future degrees.

Customized training also teaches the fundamental theories behind the work and that, says college officials, addresses another business concern, reducing costly errors.

McCarthy says five years ago, the school provided custom courses to just one client. It now works with about a dozen organizations at any one time and that number keeps growing. The community college system works with several dozen businesses in a given year and has trained more than 800 individuals through its training programs.

Manufacturing’s Thirst for Skills
The Nashua Community College (NCC) course was designed by both the college and BAE to teach students basic military standards and assembly techniques for radio frequency and microwave electronic assemblies, says Jon Mason, the instructor for the class.

So why spend so much on customized training? “They can’t fill their gap; they can’t find people to do these jobs,” says Mason of the manufacturing field. “And it usually takes about a year to train someone in it. So for a whole year they are paying someone to learn how to do the job.”

The partnership shortens the process from one year of on-the-job training to a 10-week program.

“It’s intense; they’re not playing,” Mason says. BAE isn’t going to hire everybody, but I am working with other companies in Nashua that do the exact same job using the exact same equipment, and they’ve already offered every one of these students a job. That’s how desperately they need people to do this work.”

Mason says in addition to the four students in the pilot class, which began in August, he’s already got another four enrolled in a second class, and other companies have already shown an interest in hiring them. And while students aren’t employed when they enter the program, they are almost assured a job if they complete the course and do well. It’s also a win for BAE, which can hire from a pool of applicants already trained in the skills the company needs rather than paying employees while training them.

Businesses are willing to pay for skilled labor. “According to the industry partners I have, depending on their abilities, these jobs start at about $16,” he says. “But with more skills, it’s probably going to be closer to $20.” The average weekly wage for manufacturing employees in NH during the fourth quarter of 2015 was $1,441, which would equate to $36 an hour in a 40-hour work week.

Employers are also turning to colleges to provide orientation for new staff. River Valley Community College (RVCC), with campuses in Claremont, Lebanon and Keene, offers a training program for new employees at NH Ball Bearings in Peterborough, a manufacturer of precision bearings and assemblies.

Since 2014, the ball bearing company has put employees through an intensive 80-hour, new-hire Manufacturing Bootcamp at RVCC. The class was designed specifically for NH Ball Bearings employees’ needs and teaches students how to read blueprints, basic CNC machine operation, shop math and how to use precision measuring devices. The class is taught at the Keene Academic Center Machine Tool Lab.

NH Ball Bearing covers the costs of the classes, which are held monthly. The non-credit training has the major benefit of allowing NH Ball Bearing officials to hire people with little to no manufacturing experience and end up with employees who have been trained in a consistent and safe manner before they begin work.  

The Watts employees who take the in-house advanced manufacturing certificate program through Lakes Region Community College can also use the credits toward an associate of science degree in advanced manufacturing if they want to continue their education, says LaBrecque. As part of the program, employees attend classes two days a week either before or after their shifts where they learn machine processes, CNC programming I and II, machine tool math and blueprint reading.

Scott Drapeau, an employee of Watts Water Technologies, is in the Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program at Lakes Region Community College. Courtesy photo.

Not Just for Manufacturers
While manufacturers often partner with colleges for technical training, they are not the only businesses looking to improve the skills of their workforce.

Northeast Delta Dental and NH Technical Institute, both in Concord, have partnered for years on a Dental Terminology program for Delta Dental employees. The program started when there was a shortage of hygienists to recruit and train as customer service employees. Instead the company hired customer service employees and they trained them in the dental business.  

The program builds off NHTI’s degree and certificate programs in Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting but has been modified specifically for Northeast Delta Dental’s customer service representatives.

Additionally, the college and Delta Dental have partnered to build the skill set of existing employees through such workshops as giving effective presentations, boot camp for new managers, supervisory skills training and business writing. In each instance, the programs were tweaked to be specific to Delta Dental and held at a time convenient to employees’ schedules.

And it’s not just the Community College System offering these opportunities. The University of NH has been partnering with local businesses for 30 years, leading to the customized training of thousands, says McCarthy of UNH’s Peter T. Paul College.

In particular, McCarthy says, the business college’s Executive Development Programs (EDP) offers leadership, management and business courses. These are non-credit courses where people can earn Continuing Education Units when requested. Courses can be single topics and last from a half day to multiple days. McCarthy says the classes typically train existing or new leaders who need new skills.

Future leaders take a course in the Executive Development Program at UNH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. Courtesy photo.

“A typical example,” McCarthy says, “a best engineer, or best salesperson is promoted to manager. Without management training, they often struggle in their new role. The business and their employees struggle as well.”

The classes are also beneficial to what McCarthy calls “high potentials”—emerging leaders who need to beef up their skills in preparation for taking on new roles.

McCarthy says leadership training is among the most pressing needs facing businesses. “With retirements and boomers in senior leadership positions, low unemployment in New Hampshire and a lack of training investment over the years beginning to catch up to them, businesses are concerned about having enough bench strength to backfill these critical positions.”

While the school doesn’t share specific custom program costs, McCarthy says the average cost per employee for the classes is between $500 and $1,000 per day.

“Leadership is a competitive advantage, and a lack of it will eventually kill any business,” McCarthy says. “We help to grow better business leaders.  Business can’t always do it themselves or may not have the expertise. We partner with them to develop their leaders. Participants have described our programs as career savers and life changing,” McCarthy says. “That’s our biggest source of satisfaction.”

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