Education and Economic Development Officials Collaborate on N.H.'s Workforce Issues

Dec 15, 2017

Taylor Caswell at the Community Development Finance Authority offices in Concord

A group of education and economic development officials are discussing how to meet New Hampshire's workforce demands.

The group met in Bedford on Wednesday at a forum on the future of the state’s workforce. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Taylor Caswell, the commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs who attended the forum.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So, tell us a bit more about this forum that you attended on Wednesday. Who was there, and what were you talking about?

This forum was sponsored by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the [New Hampshire] College and University Council. We were there talking about a new initiative called 65 By 25, which is really kind of a coalescing effort to be to talk about what are New Hampshire’s workforce needs going to be by 2025. And the idea is to be able to have 65 percent of our workforce have at least a four-year degree in order to meet the workforce needs that we’re seeing.

What is the number now?

Right now I think it’s around 57 percent.

So we’re talking about seven years on now, if that, by 2025 you want to raise it 13 to 14 percent?

Yeah, I think that’s a reasonable effort. We had a huge crowd there talking about all the various components that go into developing our workforce and meeting our workforce needs going forward. So it was invigorating from that standpoint.

So the worry here is that as the state ages, and if we have continued low unemployment as we do now, businesses just aren’t going to be able to find the workers they need. So, how do you do that? How do you attract that workforce to the state? How do you get people in? How do you keep people from graduating from high school and college and leaving the state, right? I mean, this is the problem.

Yeah, there’s plenty of opportunity in that area. I mean, we’re the number one exporter of college students in the United States right now. So there’s nowhere to go but up from that standpoint. But we really kind of put it in three buckets. The first bucket is with the population that we have here, and populations that are following jobs into New Hampshire, there’s a real definitive need to be able to train that workforce in a very custom way. I mean, you can go have classes at community college, or you can go through the university system, but in an increasing number of instances, the types of jobs that we are seeing growing in New Hampshire require more customized and more specific type of training. And so we’re really working together with all our academic institutions to marry those two pieces together.

Are you talking about more public-private partnerships, more partnerships between businesses and community colleges, even at the high school level? What are we talking about here?

Yeah, that’s definitely what it is. We’re talking about having a specific and collaborative relationship with all of our university and community college partners around the state to match up what we’re seeing in terms of specific sectors that are growing in that state, so high tech, healthcare, hospitality, the usual suspects, and matching up the specific employer needs with the training programs that we’re going to have available across the state.

So how do you do that? How do you facilitate that?

It’s a big part of what our department is going to be doing. I mean, we’ve only been in existence since July of this year. And so a big part of what we’re trying to pull together is really provide that magnet, that center of collaboration for all of those different parties to get into some of the more specific issues around attracting more talent to New Hampshire, attracting a workforce, using the best practices that we’ve had through our travel and tourism division, which spends a lot of time trying to get people to come here to visit for a couple of days. But you know, we’d like to have them stay for a lot longer than that if we could. And then, taking advantage of those partnerships that we have with other state organizations and with the university system. We’re going to be working on a whole new, 10-year, state economic development plan. That is going to focus really, really heavily on the workforce demands that we see going forward, and establishing a framework for those partnerships to exist for during that entire period.