Upskilling Adults in the NH Workforce

Upskilling Adults in the NH Workforce

April 2018

Upskilling Adults in the NH Workforce

By Jeremy Hitchcock and Ross Gittelll

“Lifelong learning” is an economic necessity in a state where the number of young people entering the workforce is projected to decline, yet the need for people in the workforce with 21st century skills will only grow.  Ensuring that NH’s adults can continue to upskill is a critical part of a strong economic future for the Granite State. 

New Hampshire has a strong economy, with one of the highest median family incomes and the lowest poverty rates in the nation.  Despite this, overall economic growth remains low due to several demographic and economic factors.

Our skilled labor shortage is widely recognized as the major barrier to business expansion and gaps in economic opportunity, with demographics playing a major role.  The primary reason for concern is the projected decline of nearly 20 percent in NH high school graduates over the next two decades.  

In the past, NH benefitted from the in-migration of highly educated people from outside the state. This trend, however, happened alongside a growing regional disparity as most in-migrants moved to regions closer to the Boston metro area. Many of the rural areas of NH were more removed from the growth and economic advantages.

Interstate in-migration remains low and it is unlikely to return to previous levels, given the high cost of housing in NH and other factors drawing young people elsewhere.  Other challenges include an aging workforce, with many professionals poised to retire, and the continuing out-migration of NH’s college-bound youth, half of whom leave the state for college. 

These factors have a direct impact on our workforce and require NH to look elsewhere – specifically, upskilling adults presently in the workforce. 

More rapid changes in employee skills sets are required today due to significant technological advances in robotics, computer numerically controlled machining, the Amazonification of retail, and automotive and medical equipment technology. These advances have fueled more rapid product and company life cycles.  Those with advanced training and education are more productive and earn more.

Data indicate that today’s labor market sweet spot is occupied by those with an associate (two-year) degree.  Workers in NH with an associate degree who work full-time earn on average over $52,000 annually, 30 percent more than those who only completed high school. Only 1.2 percent of associate degree holders in NH in the labor force were unemployed in 2017, compared to 3.7 percent for those with only a high school degree, 2.6 percent for all workers and 1.9 percent for those with bachelor’s degree or higher. For those associate degree holders 44 years old or younger who are in the labor force, the unemployment rate is below 0.5 percent.

NH recently adopted the “65 by 25” goal, which is to have 65 percent of adults in the state with some education and training post high school.  The goal is based on achieving a level of productivity that supports key economic indicators.  Currently, 50 percent of NH’s labor force have a college degree, leaving a gap that NH’s community colleges among other entities are working to fill.

One out of every six in the NH labor force started college but did not complete a degree.  If one of every five (or about 24,000) of those in the labor force in NH with “some college” advanced their skill set by attaining an associate degree of economic value, this would move NH three percent closer to the 65 by 25 goal, increase annual workforce earnings by nearly $200 million, and help the state’s employers overcome skilled labor shortages.

Looking ahead, education and training programs have to be easier for working adults to access. NH’s community colleges are working on strategies such as more blending of online with classroom course delivery, moving beyond the traditional semester schedule, assessing prior learning and experience that relate to program objectives, and working to identify financial support for tuition.

Increasing the earning capacity and skills of adults in our workforce all across the state is necessary for NH to support a strong future economy.  To get to 65 by 25, NH needs to focus on upskilling current workers and addressing the gap in educational achievement between rural and metro areas of the state.  The community colleges are building enrollment and success strategies for this crucial segment of Granite Staters who will play an essential role in bringing us closer to the 65 by 25 goal. 

Jeremy Hitchcock is the founder and former CEO of tech company Dyn, and chairman of the board of trustees of the Community College System of NH.

Ross Gittell is chancellor of the Community College System of NH and Economic Forecast Manager for the New England Economic Partnership.