Higher ed partnership will aid workforce

The following are excerpts of an address delivered by Robert E. Myers, president of Daniel Webster College, earlier this month at the Greater Nashua High Tech Expo.

I think, as most of you know, there are some unique demographic challenges unfolding here in the greater Nashua area. First, while the state of New Hampshire has a high proportion of its high school students graduating, only about 50 percent of those who graduate go on to college. And of those who do, more than 50 percent of them leave the state to attend a college or university. Consequently, and this is most prevalent among the independent schools here in New Hampshire, the majority of college-attending students are from outside of New Hampshire, which isn’t in itself necessarily a bad thing, but once they graduate most of them leave the state. So, in many ways, the state is subjected to a net “brain drain” of not only our best and brightest, but also of those who come from other states for their education, and then leave.

In both cases, they are taking their workforce skills elsewhere.

Couple this with the fact that, as the baby boom generation retires or nears retirement, there also is a declining population of youth coming up through the K-12 ranks to feed the pipeline for college. This, of course, leads to declining populations now and potentially in the future of skilled employees. And that, in turn, means that fewer numbers of young, highly skilled and well-compensated families will be called upon to shoulder greater financial and health-care responsibility for an aging population.

There is, thankfully, an influx of population to the area, some of which can be traced to the quality of jobs offered by regional employers, but we also know that substantial numbers of immigrants or first-generation Americans come to the area needing training or retraining in basic skills, such as English and math competency to take their legitimate place in a productive society here.

So, we are lacking no shortage of interesting challenges and opportunities. I’m heartened by the flurry of activity by the major proponents of economic development in the state, their regional public roundtables with citizens and business leaders, and their inclusion of higher education in the equation of solutions providers. I also follow the various national trade associations to see what they’re saying about workforce development. When one, the Aerospace Industries Association, was asked what they see as the biggest challenge to the U.S. from foreign competition, they responded “a skilled workforce.” And their concern is not narrowly focused on the specific industries of aerospace, but all industries in this country that depend upon creativity, innovation and the sciences.

We are losing out to other nations when we fail to focus our investments and attention on teachers and youth to stimulate science, math and the excitement of careers in all things technology. Certainly these are concerns that impact the greater Nashua region as well.

I think it is time for the area’s colleges and universities to step up to the plate in a robust, coordinated fashion. We college and university presidents ought to be discussing on a regular basis how we can unite and, in turn, work as partners to identify targeted opportunities for a range of training and education programs that are uniquely tailored to work in conjunction with economic development plans.

Through a systematic process of employer needs assessment, I believe we in higher education can develop together a better understanding of workforce needs and customize education solutions based on those needs. And together I believe we can achieve a critical mass to improve linkages, research funding, internships, and apprentice programs that are geared to serve the needs of the regional business environment.

Our regional economy is no different from the nation’s economy in that we all need to be concerned about an agile workforce, and a united higher education partnership with business is about effectively responding to that need.

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