The urgency of workforce development

It is essential to New Hampshire’s long-term economic health

Thankfully, New Hampshire continues to see economic growth as we make our way out of the worst recession in decades. Unemployment continues to drop as demand for labor increases across virtually all business sectors.

Yet economic vitality is not only about whether people can find a job; it’s also about aligning the competencies required by employers with the skills of the local and regional labor pool. 

The term “workforce development” means creating, sustaining and retaining a viable workforce that can support current and future business and industry needs. Workforce development in New Hampshire is a systemic challenge that now has the attention of HR professionals all the way up to senior company leadership and CEOs.

While more people are landing jobs, fewer of them enter the workforce with all the skills required to perform effectively. These include routine office tasks – like drafting professional letters and memos or giving and receiving instructions – to tasks requiring technical proficiency, such as those on today’s sophisticated shop floor.

Workforce development is one of the Business and Industry Association’s top concerns, reflecting the challenges it presents to member companies throughout the state.

The dearth of qualified labor particularly affects advanced manufacturing, New Hampshire’s most important economic sector, by nearly every measure.

Employees meeting manufacturing’s demand for higher-end skills are rewarded with the best compensation of any economic sector in the state. The workforce development challenge facing these employers, both individually and collectively, is pronounced, as the pool of suitable entry-level candidates grows more shallow.

To be sure, workforce development challenges are not unique to manufacturing. They are present in other important sectors of the state’s economy, including health care, professional and financial services, high technology, and more.

For decades, businesses have relied on educators to prepare the next generation for employment; however, as our economy has evolved and labor availability and competency has become a critical issue, more frequent and stronger collaborations between business leaders and educators have emerged in order to prepare younger works for 21st century jobs.

The imperative that is workforce development explains why BIA and its members rigorously advocate for high education standards and accountability, why we support innovative programs like Performance Assessment of Competency Education that seek to provide students with “real world” learning and capabilities needed for careers or college; why we’re very active in the 65×25 initiative, which seeks to ensure that 65 percent of New Hampshire’s workforce has a postsecondary credential or degree by 2025 (we’re currently at about 51 percent); and why BIA works collaboratively with education professionals and business leaders on numerous efforts intended to produce more workplace-ready high school, technical/community college, and university graduates.

When employers are considering expanding operations, high on their list of requirements is a workplace-ready, available pool of skilled workers. If New Hampshire falls behind in its commitment to workforce development, we create barriers for employment growth.

Worse, we incentivize employers to consider moving existing jobs to other parts of the country (or world) where the needs of business are better aligned with a geographic area’s commitment to workforce development.

Creating, sustaining and retaining a viable workforce that can support current and future business and industry needs is critical to ensuring economic prosperity for all. 

Jim Roche is president of the Business & Industry Association of NH.

Categories: Opinion