N.H. Manufacturing Week tackles a stigma

Efforts to promote and educate potential workers about career paths in manufacturing will be on full view at statewide events

Julie Lapierre of Rochester represents a most unlikely story connected to the revival of the state’s diverse manufacturing industry.

Frustrated after being laid off five times in the past four years, Lapierre was encouraged to enroll in an advanced manufacturing certification program through the Community College System of New Hampshire’s Advanced Technology and Training Center. What makes Lapierre’s journey remarkable is she has no previous experience in manufacturing, and as a 58-year-old student, she is four decades removed from her last extended time in a classroom.

“I had just worked in customer service and looked into the program,” said Lapierre, who in December will finish her second semester at Great Bay Community College and receive her certification. “I was overwhelmed at first and wanted to quit. I didn’t believe I could do it. But I got the help I need in learning how to use computers and in a business class. They want us to succeed.”

While Lapierre may be a demographic exception to the rule, her chance of securing a manufacturing job represents the growth and development of the advanced manufacturing education and training infrastructure in New Hampshire that could prove pivotal in training the next generation of workers to fill the hundreds, and possibly thousands, of manufacturing jobs that go unfilled every day.

It’s no small matter — manufacturing remains the top economic sector in the state and employs more than 60,000 people.

Much of that infrastructure is being showcased this month during New Hampshire Manufacturing Week, which runs from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 and features events all over the Granite State. There will be a wide range of tours, activities and presentations designed to highlight potential career paths in manufacturing. School and plant tours kick off Monday, Oct. 7, and the week culminates Oct. 10 with the 11th annual Governor’s Advanced Manufacturing and High Technology Summit at the Radisson in Manchester.“We have some progress, but we’re facing a 20-year deficit,” said Vic Kissell, senior manufacturing manager at Maxcess International in Keene and a member of the governor’s Advanced Manufacturing Education Advisory Council. “We have the infrastructure in place to get the pipeline up and running in the next few years.”

Kissell is very much a part of the effort to educate and promote the manufacturing sector in the state. He has been working for years with a number of schools and private sector employers in the Monadnock Region to develop the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Keene.

In fact, Kissell will spend most of Manufacturing Week on the road in a van sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineering to speak to students, teachers, career counselors and advisers and parents to spread the gospel about the wide range of training opportunities and career potential in 21st century manufacturing.

“There’s still a barrier to overcome because the industry still has a stigma attached to it of dirty, low-paying work,” Kissell said. “We’re trying to develop a real career path, but we haven’t raised enough awareness.”

Efforts to counter those perceptions can be seen at Keene High School, where Kissell said students taking advanced manufacturing classes can move directly to the second year of a two-year paid apprentice program. At his own company, Kissell said, two workers are nearing completion of the on-the-job training portion of their program and have full-time jobs awaiting them.

A ‘great need’

Raising awareness about opportunities has become a top priority at AMPed, Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships in Education at the Community College System of New Hampshire.

For instance, as previously reported in NHBR (“Reaching out to the next generation of manufacturing workers,” Aug. 9-22 NHBR), AMPed is leveraging social media and traditional advertising to get the word out about the opportunities available to workers of all ages.

“Study after study shows manufacturing is thriving in America, and the biggest challenge, as many employees prepare for retirement and as technologies advance, is a lack of a pipeline of skilled employees,” said Desiree Crossley, AMPed’s marketing coordinator. “The demand for high-tech skills has certainly increased, but so have the pay and other benefits that come with careers in advanced manufacturing. Private-sector advanced manufacturing offers average weekly pay 22 percent higher than the average of all private-sector industries. Additionally, there are clean, safe and comfortable working environments in which employees are challenged more mentally than physically, especially as they take advantage of the many opportunities for upward mobility in a wide range of disciplines.”

“Manufacturing is our state’s number one industry, employing over 60,000 people,” said Christopher Way, interim director of the state Division of Economic Development. “The reach of the industry spreads far into the fabric of our communities and is an important part of our economy.”

Dozens of Manufacturing Week events state are planned across the state, including open houses and tours of local manufacturers, as well as high schools and community colleges, to highlight the industry and focus on the career opportunities available.

“This will be a great opportunity for manufacturers to open their doors to the community, high school students and their parents and talk about the great need for workers with advanced manufacturing skills,” said Zenagui Brahim, executive director of the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which creates and implements training programs for manufacturing companies. “New Hampshire manufacturing is still the driver for innovation, wealth and job creation.”

Brahim, who has been with the NHMEP since the mid-1980s, wouldn’t go as far as to say that a manufacturing renaissance is taking place in the state, but he did say that manufacturers have embraced the needed to change their strategies – and that the level of cooperation and involvement among education institutions at all levels, the private sector and economic development entities has never been greater.

“Manufacturing is here and alive in New Hampshire,” Brahim said. “Everybody is working closely together to create an advanced manufacturing workforce pipeline.”

A focus on manufacturing is a top priority for Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Belknap County Economic Development Commission.

Even in an area so closely associated with tourism, Lorentz said, 10 percent of all workers in the Lakes Region are employed by manufacturers. In fact, her organization helped put together a Lakes Region Manufacturing Summit in March, and there are at least six plant tours and school events planned regionally for Manufacturing Week this month.

“Manufacturing week is very important to highlight what’s happening, but it’s a conversation that must be sustained year-round,” Lorentz said. “Our top priority is keeping manufacturers here and their top concern is finding qualified workers.”

Julie Lapierre not only hopes to be one of those workers in the near future, but also to serve as an inspiration to others.

“I was studying in the center the other day, and one of the counselors was talking to a man in his 50s who wasn’t sure he could handle the schoolwork and the career change. The counselor pointed me out. All I can say is that if I can do it, anyone can make this change, if they put their mind to it,” said Lapierre.

Categories: Technology