Manchester manufacturer enlists students to fix the ‘skills gap’
Training is a two-way street through Electropac jobs program
About a year ago The New York Times reported what some considered bad news for New Hampshire. According to the national story, federal funds for employee training programs were drying up even as local manufacturing businesses were crying out for more skilled and semi-skilled workers.
For a seasoned manager like Ray Boissoneau of Manchester, however, the news was nothing more than a distraction.
Boissoneau is the president and one of the founders of Electropac Co., an electronic circuit board manufacturer based in the Queen City. He’s keenly aware of the gap between the “hard” and “soft” skills his factory needs, and that they are not readily available in the current workforce. But 40 years of experience has taught him to see problems as opportunities. His answer to workforce challenge is hiring younger people – often college-age – and training them to work part- or full-time jobs.
It’s a win-win deal, he said.
“We’re operating in electricity, in chemistry, in photography,” he said, counting down some of the areas of expertise his firm uses to make circuit boards. The students are learning skills in these specialized areas while Electropac benefits from their contemporary education.
“They’re helping us,” the president said. “They’re teaching us old guys how to solve problems with new technology.”
The unique approach has been successful for two recent company “graduates” who are now on their way to new careers.
Asata Nuorkor, 22, of Maryland, studied international business at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. She met Boissoneau while working on a volunteer project for the local chamber of commerce and asked him about an internship. He suggested a part-time job instead.
Boissoneau took her on a tour of his 48,000-square-foot plant in the old Johnson Shoe mill building where more than 50 people are currently employed. Nuorkor, who’s interested in operations management, joined the team.
Nuorkor said that what she learned at the facility built on her strong educational experience. “School is sometimes just research-based. Instead of just working here, I’ve learned a work ethic. This gives you an understanding of teamwork. It’s something you learn in school, and you see how plays it out here. You have to be accountable for the work you do, you have to be responsible.”
Now, she said, she understands how individual jobs fit into the manufacturing process. “You have to pay attention to the details. This helps the operations manager keep track of things,” she said. “And the paperwork has to be accurate and precise, or else you get a job that’s late or a job that’s useless because the wrong things are done.”
Nuorkor is leaving Electropac to return to Maryland. She has several job offers she’s considering, including a sales position with AFLAC.
Anna McGuire of Weare is studying electrical engineering at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord. She recently left Electropac to accept a position at Allegro Microsystems’ facility in Manchester.
“This was the first real job I’ve ever had,” said the 20-year-old about her Electropac position. “It was different than school: Having a set time you had to be here at 7:30 every morning, a set time that you’d leave … You’re working with other people.”
McGuire said she specifically chose Electropac because, even though her job wasn’t exactly what she was looking for, it helped her to understand the manufacturing process.
“It’s given me a broad view of the area … It’s been what I hope for and now I understand how all the work integrates … And you couldn’t ask for better people to work with.”
The Electropac job helped McGuire snag the position with Allegro. “When they found out I worked here they were very excited to get me,” she said.
Meanwhile, Boissoneau’s door remains open to helping out people who are just staring out in their careers. They get real-life work experience while he gets enthusiastic workers who know a few things his current team may yet understand.
“It’s better than waiting around until the federal money comes in,” he said.