Education is key to manufacturing growth
In New Hampshire, manufacturing brings in four times as much revenue as tourism. Since 2003, manufacturing has grown almost three times faster than the state's economy as a whole.Surprised? How could this be when national trends point to the declining role of manufacturing in the United States?Most of this growth in New Hampshire is the result of what's called advanced manufacturing - products and processes that have benefited from emerging technologies and require a high degree of technical skill.New Hampshire is fortunate to have so many highly skilled inventors and entrepreneurs who are using the latest technology and information to develop innovative new products and grow successful businesses.It's important to understand the important role they play in our state's economy - and can continue to play if conditions are right.This is why the New Hampshire Legislature called for the creation of the Advanced Manufacturing Education Advisory Council in 2008. It's also one of the reasons the Legislature several years ago created a research and development tax credit to encourage these businesses to continue to develop their cutting-edge products and processes right here in New Hampshire.As chairperson of the Advanced Manufacturing Education Advisory Council, I've had a front-row seat as we examined the problems and the promises of this exciting sector of our economy. Many key people in advanced manufacturing and in education came together around the same table and collaboratively looked at what it will take to ensure that this industry can find skilled workers as it grows.Jobs in advanced manufacturing pay well. Yet one company in New Hampshire tells me it has 19 openings it is struggling to fill. Others say the cost of training and retaining the few skilled workers they have is driving up costs.When surveyed about their challenges, our advanced manufacturers said they are having trouble finding workers with the math, programming and basic problem-solving skills needed to succeed in this industry.Others noted that few students, teachers or guidance counselors know enough about career opportunities in advanced manufacturing to help young people understand the potential for exciting jobs in the field.Addressing these challenges will require the efforts of everyone involved. We believe schools need to raise the bar in mathematics instruction and provide more opportunities for hands-on activities that help students to develop and practice problem-solving skills.Good programs in our career and technical education centers need to be available to all students. Advanced manufacturers must reach out to local schools to build relationships and make sure that educators and families know about the potential for exciting careers. Lawmakers need to find ways to continue to support advanced manufacturing as it seeks the skilled workforce it needs for the future.I invite you to look further at some of the recommendations and information that the Advanced Manufacturing Education Advisory Council has assembled as part of its work this past year by clicking on the Advanced Manufacturing link on the General Court Web site at gencourt.state.nh.us As we say in our report: The economic vitality of the state depends on creating an educational infrastructure that supports manufacturing.Democrat Molly M. Kelly of Keene represents District 10 in the New Hampshire Senate.