Keene, NH – On Tuesday, March 15, NH MEP President, Zenagui Brahim helped facilitate discussion among Keene area manufacturers. The event sponsored by New Hampshire Manufacturing Partnership (NH MEP), Keene Area Manufacturers Consortium and Keene State College offered an open platform for discussion of the challenges Monadnock area manufacturers face, highlighting the workforce shortage. Following this discussion, a panel of state officials offered solutions and strategies.
Keene’s Mayor, George Hansel, also a vice president and owner of Filtrine, a Keene manufacturer that produces water filter systems, opened the discussion forum. Approximately 15 Monadnock area manufacturers shared their workforce challenges recruiting and retaining employees with the added issue of affordable local housing shortage.
Zenagui Brahim, president of New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NH MEP) in Concord, works closely with Workforce Development. NH MEP program specialists offer leadership training and technical skills training at low or no cost. Also, NH MEP fosters partnerships between manufacturers and educational institutions creating student awareness of career opportunities. October, Manufacturing Month, is an opportunity when NH Manufacturers open their doors to student tour groups.
Ken Abbott, president of ABTech a designer and manufacturer of air-bearing based, ultra-precision products for industries including optics, aerospace, and more, said his company of approximately 25 employees has the biggest backlog of work it has ever had and could quickly double its revenues. Abbott said, to do so would require about 10 new employees.
Matt Zabko, a manager at Spectral Systems, located in Jaffrey, described a similar concern. Many of the employees at Spectral Systems, are driving almost two hours from Massachusetts or Vermont daily because they cannot find housing closer.
Molly Webster, a human resource manager at N.H. Ball Bearings in Peterborough, said the availability of child care and flexible schedules for employees, especially women, with children has affected the industry’s ability to recruit employees. We need to create a better vision of all that is available in manufacturing. Those who start in entry level positions can work their way into general manager and regional vice president positions, she said.
Mayor Hansel, followed by saying the manufacturing industry needs to collaborate to overcome challenges. “We need to do better in a lot of these different areas because we just can’t afford to sit back and be passive,” he said. The manufacturing industry represents more than 15 percent of the state’s economy, but recent hiring and recruitment trends are unsustainable, Hansel said. Building the pipeline between the industry and high school and college education in the state is one area for improvement, he said.
Jeffrey Rondeau, a manager of supply chain operations at Markem-Imaje in Keene said, Keene State students who have had internships with local manufacturers are more likely to continue working in the state after college. He suggested colleges make internships a requirement of engineering programs.
Phase 2 of the discussion forum, after manufacturers shared their workforce challenges, New Hampshire Employment Security officials, and representatives of Southern New Hampshire Services (SNHS), including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) had the opportunity to present programs that could help manufacturers attract, hire and retain employees.
Katrina Murray of SNHS said, “the nonprofit can connect New Hampshire residents with fuel assistance, childcare and other needs in order to help them focus on finding employment.” SNHS serves Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties, and hosts workforce sessions that help to inform job seekers about the different career paths available, she said.
Sarah Morrissey, of the New Hampshire Employment Security Office, said through their website, they hosted 52 virtual job fairs in 2021, providing an opportunity for job seekers to connect directly with hiring departments.
Jimmie Hinson, from the New Hampshire Office of Workforce Opportunity, said the manufacturing industry should be recruiting across all age groups, seniors, adults as well as high school and college students. The Office of Workforce Opportunity offers programs that can help train those who have been laid off in another industry as well as train existing employees within a company. Some training programs may qualify for partial reimbursement.
In closing, Mayor Hansel stated the industry needs “a core group of manufacturers” to keep the workforce movement going forward in order to compete globally. With continued discussion and collaboration on these issues. He said he hopes to hold similar events in the near future.
About NH MEP The NH MEP is an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The national MEP system is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2,000 manufacturing and business “coaches” whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits and enhanced global competitiveness.
For more information please visit nhmep.org or call 603-226-3200.