Focus on Manchester: High hopes for Job Corps center

In 2003, a coalition of New Hampshire citizens formed a task force to pursue a federal Job Corps program for the Granite State. Such an effort seemed due — if not overdue — by the mere fact that New Hampshire and Wyoming were the only states without a Job Corps program and other, mostly larger, states each had several.

Judd Gregg, New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator, played the leading role in passing legislation stipulating that New Hampshire and Wyoming would be given priority when planning new Job Corps locations. That narrowed down the competition considerably, but Manchester developer Dick Anagnost was thinking globally and not just eyeing Wyoming as a potential rival.

“If we don’t get going on this soon,” he warned, “Iraq may have a Job Corps program before New Hampshire does.”

But in 2007, New Hampshire was awarded a Job Corps program, and work continues on the planning and eventual building of a $30 million to $35 million campus on a 20-acre site off Dunbarton Road in northwest Manchester. The land is being leased from the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority at $1 a year for 99 years.

With such a facility, it’s obvious that the new program is going to be more than just glorified on-the-job training.

“It’s a residential program,” said Anagnost, chairman of the task force. That’s what U.S. taxpayers are getting for the millions that will be spent for a campus and several buildings that will resemble a university, or at least a small college. There will be some day students from southern and south central New Hampshire, but since the Job Corps center will service a statewide area, housing students from as far away as Berlin and Keene is a necessity. The task force hopes one day to have a satellite program for New Hampshire’s North Country, but that is getting ahead of the story.

Targeted industries

The program is aimed at serving economically disadvantaged youths between 16 and 24.

Relying on national statistics, Mike Power, executive director of the Workforce Opportunity Council in Concord, describes the kind of trainees that are anticipated at the Manchester site.

“About three-quarters of Job Corps students are high school dropouts who have never had a full-time job,” said Power. For them, completing high school or finishing a GED program will be a starting point. There will also be training in a number of career fields with tie-ins or links to the state’s community college system and to many New Hampshire businesses. The Job Corps planners have targeted three main areas of career training. One of those fields is homeland security.

The state has a port in Portsmouth, a nuclear plant and a border with another country. It has a strong and growing mid-sized airport and is in close proximity to other New England airports, especially Logan International in Boston, all with constant and growing demand for professionally trained Transportation Security Agency personnel.

There also is a regional Federal Aviation Administration control center in Nashua. And there are a number of high-tech companies and defense manufacturers in southern New Hampshire that are potential targets for espionage or terrorists attacks. Training for careers in law enforcement and national security work, as well as in advanced manufacturing, will be needed in New Hampshire, Power said.

Another area is health care, a growing need in a state with an aging population. Hospitals in particular and the health-care industry in general are expected to grow to meet demands created by that graying population, along with child health services and shortages in nursing and other health-care professions.

Finally, with tourism still accounting for a major portion of New Hampshire’s income, career training in the hospitality industries will be essential to meet the need for workers and entrepreneurs to serve the increasingly diverse international traffic in tourism. Typically, jobs in tourism are difficult to fill, and more workers and future managers will be vital to keep that part of the New Hampshire and New England economy strong.

Ready in 2010

Anagnost, who knows more than a few things about construction projects, said architectural plans for the complex are 30 percent complete and will be 50 percent complete by the end of the year. The plans should be ready in February of next year, he said, with groundbreaking taking place sometime in the summer of 2009. The Job Corps academy should be open for learning by the end of 2010.

Initially, about 300 students are expected, with 100 of them to graduate within a year. Within a couple of years, the Job Corps center in New Hampshire may be graduating 500 students, Power said.

But with space available in old mill buildings and other structures around Manchester and elsewhere in southern New Hampshire, why spend $30 million or $35 million on new buildings on a remote campus?

According to Power, to serve youths statewide, the Job Corps must be able to house them. And the classroom and career training will be intensive, requiring an environment removed from the distractions and temptations of urban life.

Many of the youths have had run-ins with the law and have or have had drug or alcohol problems or been hanging around with kids who do. In the Job Corps, they will be removed from that environment.

“We want to put them in a constructive environment where they can succeed,” Anagnost said.

Indeed, it will be almost like joining the Army. The students will arise at about 6:30 each day and make their beds and tidy up their rooms, shower, shine their shoes and don their uniforms and go to breakfast. Then they will go through a full day of classes and/or career training before evening meals and retiring to do their homework or other studies.

Some of the day students may have part-time jobs, but the residents will have their food, clothing and shelter needs met and will be paid a stipend to help meet other expenses. Their world will be basically self-contained on the Manchester campus.

The average stay per student will be somewhere between eight and 11 months, Power said, enabling the academy, which will be open year-round, to graduate hundreds of well-trained young people a year.

Plenty of support

A number of New Hampshire corporations have indicated a willingness to commit to employing a certain number of students upon graduation each year. In addition, a wide variety of New Hampshire companies and nonprofit organizations have already pledged donations of materials, services and in-kind contributions, such as internships and job-shadowing opportunities, worth more than $6.5 million in “links.”

“There’s no other Job Corps academy anywhere in the country that has this kind of commitment and support,” said Patrick van Rooyen of Manchester, project director for the New Hampshire Job Corps Center. In addition to the three main curriculum goals that Power and Anagnost outlined, van Rooyen described a military careers preparedness program.

“It’s a little bit like a junior ROTC program, but it’s much more focused on physical fitness and adventure programs,” said van Rooyen, who was director of the Job Corps program in Grafton, Mass., for several years. “The program grew so rapidly that in 2004, for instance, we had in the career academy put more people into the military than any other educational institution,” he said.

“The military loves the Job Corps,” said Power. So, apparently do employers and educators. In the 42-year history of the federal program, he said, 90 percent of the graduates have been placed in jobs that pay well, or have continued their education at two or four-year colleges or have joined the military.

Even those who think a successful federal program is an oxymoron, the evidence would suggest that at least the Job Corps is an exception.

“It’s not run by a bureaucracy,” said Power.

It is, rather, a fruitful public-private partnership. All of the existing Job Corps academies have been and are being run by private companies that bid for the contract. If all goes according to plan, New Hampshire’s will be the first to be run by a citizens’ task force made up of many of the same people who planned and lobbied for the program in the first place.

In addition, the state’s educational institutions are expected to play a major role. Southern New Hampshire University, for example, has an extensive program in the culinary arts that should provide educational opportunities for those in the Job Corps hospitality curriculum. Saint Anselm College has had a successful criminal justice program that will likely be accessible to students in education for homeland security. University of New Hampshire Manchester is close by, as is Manchester Community College and others campuses in the state’s community college system. And employers in varied fields will be offering programs in everything from machine design and repair to turf management.

The program has the full support of both Gov. John Lynch and Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, along with other public officials.

“I did a lot of research and background work on this issue prior to becoming mayor,” said Guinta. The program, he said, will do more than provide skills to the students. “It is also a feeder system for home-grown employment, and that’s important in New Hampshire,” Guinta said. “One of the biggest challenges we face is the growing number of students who leave New Hampshire for their education.”

Indeed, some New Hampshire youths had been enrolling in Job Corps programs in other states, mostly Massachusetts and Vermont. Having a program in the state’s southern tier should help stem the “brain drain” of students who leave and don’t come back.

For many students, the classroom education and job-training skills they acquire will be enhanced by habits of personal conduct that will be invaluable in marketing themselves to prospective employers for decades. They will learn to think clearly, to dress up, show up and when appropriate, speak up, Power said.

“New Hampshire’s going to have the best Job Corps program in the country,” he predicted, adding: “The whole purpose of Job Corps is to produce constructive members of society, ready to go to work.”