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'Forum on the Future' to address issue of 17,000 unfilled NH jobs

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 11. 2017 8:42PM

BEDFORD — Some of the state’s top leaders in business, government and academia will gather on Wednesday in Bedford to grapple with the number-one challenge to the New Hampshire economy — an inadequate workforce.

The event couldn’t be better timed.

Commissioner of Employment Security George Copadis says we are in uncharted territory when it comes to the current labor shortage that is choking economic growth. The department currently has 17,000 jobs it’s trying to help fill for businesses throughout the state, a historically high number.

“I can tell you with the job fairs we have held all over the state we are averaging one job seeker for every six to seven job openings,” he said, and that is despite an investment of about $5,000 in advertising for each job fair, something the state has not had to do in the past.

The only exception to that ratio was at a recent job fair in Manchester, where the turnout was extremely high: 1,000 job seekers for about 2,200 jobs, he said.

The Wednesday morning event from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Bedford Village Inn will feature Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, along with University System Chancellor Todd Leach and Community College System President Ross Gittell.

The “Forum on the Future” comes as the state labor force continues to shrink, having dropped from 753,497 to 747,906 since June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a drop of 5,591 workers.

The main reason, according to Bruce DeMay, director of the Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, is the graying of the New Hampshire workforce. “Aging out of the normal working age population is the primary reason for the decline,” he said.

New Hampshire currently has 20,129 unemployed people on record, with approximately 2,000 collecting unemployment benefits. So why don’t those 20,129 people fill the 17,000 job openings?

“When you get numbers this low — a little more than 2,000 people collecting unemployment benefits with 20,000 unemployed — a lot of these people have issues,” Copadis said. “They either don’t have the proper skills for the job or they have other barriers to employment, whether it be substance abuse, transportation, day care.”

Copadis points out that New Hampshire workers receiving unemployment benefits are finding jobs at a much faster rate than the national average, with only 17 percent exhausting the full 26-week benefit period, compared to 37 percent nationally.

“Those seeking employment in New Hampshire are getting back to work faster than in other areas in the country,” he said.

Employment Security is working with Business and Economic Development to try a novel strategy for New Hampshire — out-of-state job fairs.

“We are also trying to hook up with New Hampshire students who go to out-of-state colleges through their career centers in order to convince them about the terrific job opportunities back in their home state when they graduate,” Copadis said.

At the Wednesday event, Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association, will describe a program called “Workforce Accelerator 2025,” a joint venture with the Charitable Foundation to create and support school-to-career pathways between New Hampshire’s schools and businesses.

The idea is to ensure that 65 percent of New Hampshire adults have degrees or credentials by 2025.

Katie Merrow, vice president of community impact at the Charitable Foundation, will present the latest workforce data from the Center for Public Policy Studies and moderate a panel on additional strategies to meet workforce demand.

The event is hosted by the New Hampshire College and University Council, together with the Charitable Foundation and Business and Industry Association.

For more information or to register, contact Kristen Oliveri at 225-6641 x267,; or Scott Spradling at 724-8092,; or click here.

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