Berlin Daily Sun: Kuster Discusses Her Job Agenda in Visit to College
BERLIN – The state needs to promote manufacturing as a career to high school students if the region and country want to regain manufacturing jobs that moved offshore participants in a roundtable discussion told U.S. Congresswoman Annie Kuster Friday.
Kuster (D-NH) toured the new $1.7 million advanced welding lab at White Mountains Community College and then hosted a roundtable as part of her Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Agenda.
Kuster told the participants she has been visiting community colleges in the state and touring manufacturing facilities as well as meeting with business people to find out what the federal government is doing that is helpful and what things it is doing that are harmful to businesses. She said the top priority of her jobs agenda is training a highly skilled workforce.
Her proposal also calls for fostering innovation, strengthening manufacturing, supporting small businesses, building a 21st century infrastructure, reducing the federal deficit in a balanced way, increasing economic security, and protecting the New Hampshire advantage.
White Mountains Community College President Kathy Eneguess said the college is trying to stay as current as it can but admitted it is a challenge. She said the college works to partner directly with local businesses in providing training, hoping she said to be the "go-to-partner" for businesses.
Gorham Paper and Tissue CEO Mike Cummings said helping companies retraining existing workers is different than training people for new jobs. He said sometimes it is more efficient to add new skills as needed especially in a legacy mill like the Gorham facility. When the company last year hired about 33 new people to fill vacancies partly created by retirements, Cummings said all but three or four had papermaking experience.
But with one third of his workers over 62 years old, Cummings said the mill will be looking in the next few years to replace the baby boomer generation. He said already there is a shortage of industrial electricians, people who work on industrial drivers, and increasingly, truck drivers.
He said the country might have gone too far pushing high school graduates to go to a four-year college. Kuster said manufacturing has lost a generation and students need to realize that the industry offers good jobs with a future. Many industrial jobs now are computerized. It is not, she noted, your father or grandfather's manufacturing job anymore.
As the cost of college starts to strain middle case families, Kuster said parents may re-evaluate the benefit of a four-year college. She noted that New Hampshire college graduates end up with the second highest debt load in the country with the average graduate owing $32,000.
Mark Belanger, head of N.H. Employment Security's Berlin office, said the region has lost most of its manufacturing jobs in recent years. He said there are not replacement jobs for those laid off from manufacturing. He said there is a need for money for retraining workers. The Trade Adjustment Act funds that were available to mill workers are not available. Eneguess said the TAA program was very successful. She said over a two year period, 180 former mills workers graduated from WMCC. John Dyer of WMCC noted that self-employed people put out of business by foreign competition are not eligible for the TAA program. He asked her to work to allow self-employed to qualify for the funds under certain circumstances.