Forum on the Future: The answer to an increased workforce lies in better education

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From left, Taylor Caswell, Todd Leach, Sister Paula Marie Buley, Frank Edelblut, and Dianna Mercier, leading the discussion at the Bedford Village Inn, on the state’s educational future. Photo/Katie Dugan

MANCHESTER, NH – According to a recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, about two-thirds of all jobs in New Hampshire will require education beyond high school by the year 2025. The problem is, today only a little over half of New Hampshire residents of working age qualify.

State leaders in business, education, philanthropy, and government gathered recently for the 2017 Forum on the Future at the Bedford Village Inn to discuss their plans to increase New Hampshire’s trained Workforce by 65 percent by 2025.

65×25 Forum Breakfast Powerpoints

“The goal is to increase attainment in New Hampshire,” said Katie Merrow, Vice President of Community Impact and facilitator of the Forum on the Future,  “and will deepen the workforce pool and address the changing needs in today’s New Hampshire.”

The panelists broke down each issue this state faces and provided their plans and ideas in order to fix it. New Hampshire is the fastest growing economy in New England, according to panelist Taylor Caswell, New Hampshire Commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs. While that is encouraging data for the Granite State, that advantage is not effective unless  changes are made, especially in the education system.

“No matter where you go, in any state, in any region, and you look at where there have been successful economic development initiatives that have resulted in sustained period of growth over a long period of time, it is in those locations where there are strong partnerships with educational institutions,” said Caswell.

Projections of High School Graduates Through 2032, from the Forum for the Future Powerpoint presentations/USNH

Chancellor of the University of New Hampshire, Todd Leach, said that in order to compete with other New England states, New Hampshire must create a workforce appealing to high school students. Due to spikes in in-state tuition, prospective students, and their parents, see a high price tag instead of an investment in a future career.

“The quality has to be there, a 17-year-old isn’t going to be looking at the tuition, he’ll be looking at the institution,” said Leach.

Sister Paula Marie Buley, President of Rivier University, said that investment is well worth it for students – 40 percent of nurses, teachers, and business majors in New Hampshire matriculated through in-state private institutions. But educators and college recruiters must meet students halfway, and invest in them, too.

“Rivier has responded with a program called the Employment Promise Program,” explained Buley, “that promise in our confidence that if a student does not have a bachelorette-level job nine months after graduation, the university promises to pay one year of their federally subsidized student loans.”

The mission, named 65×25, is an inclusive plan that will invest in employees, stability, families, and the future. It will focus on strengthening New Hampshire’s education system, including middle schools, and adjust curriculums and career opportunities that will realistically give students choices and a better sense of what career they are able to pursue.

The Dec. 13 presentation at Bedford Village Inn looked at solutions to NH’s future workforce needs. Photo/Katie Dugan

“It’s important for us to create a system that allows student to be successful in their lives, making sure that the K-12 system is connected to the community college system, to the higher education systems,” Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire Commissioner of Education, said.

“Students should see when they are in high school, what courses are relevant help them achieve their dreams. We need to talk about this in vernacular that makes it fun for the kids to engage in. I can’t have a student who wants to go in to health science at community college system but they have not been exposed to any of the math that they are going to need. We owe it to the students,” said Edelblut.

Gittell explained during the Dec. 13 breakfast event that the 65×25 plan consists of several components in order to be successful. Those fundamental needs include making education opportunities more affordable, increasing program completion rates, attracting students to New Hampshire Institutions, and creating partnerships with employers. Diane Mercier, President of People’s United Bank, added that training and internship programs need to be updated to not only accommodate realistic career requirements, but to also develop stronger collaborations with business leaders in New Hampshire to provide students with a beneficial experience.

“We’ve adopted a pathway approach that’s aligned with career opportunities. We are putting in time and research to improve that. We have to start exposing young people, as early as middle school, to get them on that fast track to a career path,” Gittell said.

The forum, co-hosted by the NH Charitable Foundation and Business & Industry Association of NH, was attended by about 185 business, community and education leaders, as well as members of the public.