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Developing a Better Plan for NH's Workforce
 
Published Friday, June 16, 2017
by STEVE NORTON

"Northern New England’s Good Jobless Numbers? They’re Bad,” read a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal. The author was commenting on our historically low unemployment rate as an indicator of the availability of the workforce. And an end to the tight labor market does not look readily apparent. New Hampshire projections for the working age population show a net decline over the next 10 years. And while a tight labor market is good for workers who might get a raise, it’s bad news for businesses looking to locate here or for local businesses looking to expand.

Government Response
The governor’s budget included a reorganization of the state’s economic development activities, designed to increase the focus and efficiency of those efforts. While bringing businesses to NH will remain an important economic goal for the state, finding ways to improve or expand the state’s workforce is likely the most critical short-term dilemma.  

To that end, the NH Workforce Innovation Board—a consortium of quasi-government and government organizations that includes the Workforce Opportunity Council, NH Employment Security and the Department of Education—has developed a state workforce development plan. That brings together resources and organizations that train NH residents. This consortium includes an array of programs, including funding for dislocated workers and youth, the senior community service employment program, funding for unemployment insurance, adult education and literacy, vocational rehabilitation, and career and technical education.  

The plan is designed to link these training resources to ensure the state is producing a workforce that businesses actually need based on data and with clear career pathways. The plan also includes a strategic goal of helping businesses better understand resources like Work Ready NH, an initiative based in the community college system, and NH Works, a network of training providers that seek to increase job readiness skills, funded in part by federal dollars.

There are also workforce development policy debates going on in the legislature in this budget session regarding a scholarship program for students willing to stay and work in NH, funding full-day kindergarten and transportation infrastructure initiatives.   

The Nonprofit Response
On the nonprofit side, the Business and Industry Association and the NH Charitable Foundation have teamed on Workforce Accelerator 2025, an initiative designed to promote school-to-career pathways to facilitate partnerships between employers, schools and colleges. The focus is on key industries that provide strong growth opportunities, have a strong and growing job base and have a critical shortage of individuals to fill jobs both in the short term and the long term. This initiative is in its early stages but has strong engagement with the business community, including Fidelity Investments, which is a partner.  

Although NH already has one of the most educated populations in the country, one of the ways the state is trying to gain a competitive foothold (and maintain its current strong economic activity) is by setting educational attainment goals for workers in NH. The 65 X 25 initiative set a goal to ensure that 65 percent of NH’s working age population has an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or a high quality workforce credential by the year 2025. That initiative has been adopted by a variety of organizations, including the BIA, the Community College and University systems, the NH Business and Education Coalition, and the Workforce Accelerator 2025 initiative.

So goals have been set, organizations have begun to coalesce around these goals and are collaborating, and the governor and legislative leaders are committed to reorganizing executive agencies to elevate workforce and economic development issues in the public policy debate.  There is a lot of energy here.  

But like most public policy initiatives, the success of these activities will be a function of how effectively we narrow our focus on high impact strategies. Success will be more likely if we think carefully about investing in workforce development in industries where we have a comparative advantage relative to other parts of the country, where there are significant workforce shortages and geographic areas with a high return on investment.

Steve Norton is executive director of the NH Center for Public Policy Studies, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization in Concord. Norton can be reached at snorton@nhpolicy.org.


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