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Velcro Companies proposal could lead to internships, jobs for Manchester students

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 24. 2018 10:45PM
Dirk Foreman, left, president of Velcro's North America division located in Manchester, discusses details of a new proposed partnership with city schools with Mayor Joyce Craig and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas. (PAUL FEELY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — School board members are scheduled to hear details tonight of a proposed partnership between the school district and Velcro Companies, which could lead to paid internships and possible jobs for Manchester students.

The Board of School Committee is scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

On the agenda is a presentation on “Velcro University,” which organizers and school administrators hope to have up and running at Manchester High School West in time for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. According to the organizers, the mission of the program is to “equip students with the practical business and technical skills” needed to succeed in today’s world.

The seeds of the proposed partnership were sown last fall, during a visit by then newly-elected Mayor Joyce Craig to Velcro Companies on Sundial Avenue.

“As I learned more about what goes on there, we talked about Manchester and it was clear that Velcro wanted to take an active role in participating in making the community better,” said Craig.

“The company has a history of donating a significant of money, but not much of it is directed at the local community,” said Dirk Foreman, president-North America, for Velcro Companies. “We built a $25 million technical school in Cambodia last year, and that was a big deal, but we haven’t been focused in our own backyard. We want to get more focused on Manchester.”

According to Foreman, Velcro has developed a curriculum that addresses both “soft skills and technical skills,” based on a combination of “hands-on classroom learning and in-factory experiential learning.”

“I asked the question, ‘Where does Manchester need help?’ and the school district came back with this.”

According to Foreman the proposal — which has yet to be approved by school board members — would operate across seven phases:

Essentials — where the student learns “soft skills” needed to contribute in a manufacturing business environment

Business Acumen — student is exposed to basic business tools, such as financial and production fundamentals

Velcro Companies Culture — teaching the student how the effectiveness of an organization can be linked to that organization’s culture

Technical Acumen — involves the student connecting with and mirroring a manufacturing employee at the Velcro Companies manufacturing facility.

Internship — students who complete all phase IV activities will be given preferential status for summer internships with Velcro Companies, based on availability.

Giving Back — intended to teach the value of community service.

Placement — completes the program. If students have successfully completed all phases of Velcro University curriculum, Velcro Companies is “committed to offer full-time entry-level employment opportunities,” according to curriculum materials made available ahead of tonight’s meeting.

“Believe it or not, we have 27 or 28 direct labor positions open in Manchester,” said Foreman. “We thought why not put together a program, let the district identify 15 or 16 students to put through a full semester. At the end we can put them through the internship program, and it could lead to employment.”

“They have a unique curriculum,” said Manchester Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas. “At the same time that they will be engaging in active learning, they will be able to go to the site of that building and see what an engineer does and how a product gets built. It could become part of a youngster’s summer job experience, and they could get paid for it.”

“It’s a really exciting opportunity,” said Craig. “Velcro has put together a tremendous curriculum to follow and then possibly step into a paid internship. Where they are constantly looking for employees, we are meeting in the middle, and it’s a win-win for both.”

Foreman said the district has identified a classroom at West, across from the auditorium, where Velcro University will be held if the proposal is approved by board members. He expects to have people on site renovating the classroom soon, at no charge to the district.

“We will run it, pay for it,” said Foreman. “It’s cost-free for the school.”

“It is great news,” said Vargas. “When you bring the city and the school district working together, we can create the best school district because very few communities have what we have available here.”

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