Roundtable: College-business partnerships key to workforce development in NH

USNH discussion sees solutions to filling labor needs in continued, stronger ties
Kamen At Usnh Roundtable

It’ll be a real shame if we don’t work more closely with the university system,’ Dean Kamen of DEKA Research, center, said at the University System of New Hampshire roundtable. Also show are Melinda Treadwell, president of Keene State College, and Joe Murray of Fidelity Investments. (Photo by Amanda Andrews)

The economically vital ties between businesses and the state’s colleges and universities statewide was the focus of a roundtable held Tuesday at the University of New Hampshire-Manchester.

The roundtable, moderated by Mike Skelton, CEO of the Business & Industry Association of NH, and UNH President James W. Dean president of UNH, included Dean Kamen, founder of DEKA Research & Development in Manchester; Anne Tyrol, chief nursing officer at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene; Ben Learned, human resources manager at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies; Joe Murray, vice president of government relations and public affairs at Fidelity Investments; and Butch Locke, strategic operations director for BAE Systems.

Front of mind for participants was how the University System of New Hampshire — which encompasses Keene State College, Plymouth State University, Granite State College and the University of New Hampshire — helps feed the workforce pipeline by preparing students with the skills and knowledge that businesses around the state are looking for in new employees.

The goal of their effort, said Skelton, “is to ensure a robust economic future for New Hampshire, and our vision is that New Hampshire is the best place to do business across the country.”

‘Connective tissue’

One sector that seems hardest-hit by workforce challenges is health care, and a partnership between Keene State College and Dartmouth Health facilities, like Cheshire Medical Center, is seeking to address it.

“I’ve seen how our collaboration with Keene State has helped with (workforce development), leveraging their Nursing Simulation Lab,” says Anne Tyrol. “Continuing to work together to leverage, not only the workforce that’s coming out of Keene State but partnering to develop the clinical instructors, the simulation instructors, that are going to continue to develop our workforce into the future is very important.”

A key tactic that secondary education institutions are using to bridge the gap between education and the workforce is internships.

According to Keene State President Melinda Treadwell, “Fifty percent of our students are participating in internships. If successful, we’ll commit to 100 percent of our students being in internship programs, which adds twice as many to the future workforce.”

She added that “partnerships are essential. How do we keep our students in New Hampshire? It’s about getting involved in our communities; giving them a taste of the workforce so they stay.”

Butch Locke of BAE Systems agreed. “The better we can partner with our schools, the better we can connect to the students, provide internships, the more likely they’re going to come work for us,” he said.

At the roundtable, Kamen pointed out how students are receiving high-value learning in New Hampshire that provides students with the skills to join the workforce right out of college, but often we’re “giving them a free pass to go wherever they want,” he said. “It’ll be a real shame if we don’t work more closely with the university system.”

That sentiment is what’s driving businesses across the state to work more closely with colleges in our state to solve their workforce woes from the source.

“What we’re talking about here is the connective tissue, figuratively speaking, that exists in a very unique way in New Hampshire,” said Murray of Fidelity. “It’s really special that we can all come together, and most of us know each other at this table. You can’t find that in other places. We have this ability to connect that other states can’t.”

Fidelity employs approximately 65,000 people nationwide, Murray said, and 1,200 of them are graduates of the university system.

State budget request

Both business leaders and university officials say that a key to developing the future workforce is money.

They are joining together in are requesting an increase in the state’s appropriation of funds for state’s education system in the 2024-25 state budget.

In USNH’s request, additional funds would help “expand investments in career service functions to integrate campuses and students into the business community and create more opportunities for students to earn with New Hampshire employers while in school.”

Additionally, USNH is seeking to “maintain investments that have led to five years of flat tuition and increased levels of aid to NH students. These commitments are critical to retaining NH high school students who seek a post-secondary education.”

Under USNH’s request, funds will increase to $95.2 million in FY 2024 and $104.2 million in FY 2025. Funding currently is $88.5 million, among the lowest amounts provided by any state in the nation.

According to USNH statistics, some 2,000 system graduates join the workforce each year

“The businesses are really the drivers of the economic vitality of the state,” said UNH President Dean. “The biggest chunk of the state budget comes from the business and profits tax, (which is the) driver of all the programs that benefit the people of New Hampshire who are in desperate need of talent to run and grow those businesses. A lot of that talent is coming from the educational institutions that we have here.”

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