White Mountains Community College President Charles Lloyd in training room

Charles Lloyd, president of White Mountains Community College, recently gives a tour of a classroom for licensed nursing assistants at the college's Littleton Academic Center.

HERE ARE a few things I learned about squirrels, breadcrumbing and the search for work while waiting for baseball season to start. ...

One benefit from working from home has been discovering how many neighbors you have living around you — and I’m not talking about the human ones.

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Take the gray squirrels that scurried across the ice-crusted snow in my front yard last week. They have been my co-workers over the past 11 months I have worked from home. Turkeys and deer sometime stop by, too.

Recently, I did play-by-play from my dining room office tracking one squirrel bounding across my yard’s natural area and retaining wall, up one tree and then another, across the driveway and out of sight. It went something like this:

“He grabs the nut. Oh no! The nut is rolling down the hill. Saves it at the cliff. Climbs up the hill. Up the first foot of the tree. Recalculate. To the second tree, No third, fourth tree. Down the hill. Over the pavement...Out of sight. Oh, we’re going to miss the squirrel.”

Not sure if I amused my wife or scared her. Maybe both.

So I decided to check in with the squirrel experts at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

They’re taking in the view as well.

‘“All day long I have the opportunity to observe wildlife in my back yard, which if I wasn’t basically quarantining at home, I wouldn’t have that opportunity,” said wildlife specialist Matt Tarr.

“I think it provides a unique opportunity to maybe slow down a bit and just observe what’s going on around them and begin to appreciate their yard is home to a lot of other critters other than themselves,” Tarr said.

He rattled off a roll call of bird species, including blue jays and goldfinches, along with at least five squirrels he was staring at from his house in Gilmanton Iron Works as we talked last week.

That’s more than the 15 human co-workers he would see if he weren’t working from home.

“But none of them are begging me for food,” said Tarr, who maintains a bird feeder.

The squirrel population is benefiting from “a pretty mild winter,” he said, providing them with more opportunities to gather nuts and seeds.

And squirrels like to mate in January and February, so expect to spot a few more starting next month.

Waiting game

Since the flip of the calendar to 2021, one staffing agency is fielding more job openings to fill in New Hampshire.

“There’s definitely some good optimism there,” said Barry Roy, regional president at Robert Half, with offices in Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth.

And more workers — both new and old — are being told to head back to their workplaces, he said.

He thinks the jobs market will improve as the year proceeds and vaccinations become more widespread.

The jobs picture still doesn’t match a year ago when “the market was very, very hot before COVID hit us,” Roy said.

He’s right. New Hampshire isn’t back to where it was pre-pandemic. For December, the state reported there were 37,330 fewer Granite Staters employed compared with December 2019. There were 10,020 more unemployed people and another 27,310 who left the labor force.

Still others were working part-time or in a job paying less than before the pandemic hit last March.

His firm also released a national survey showing one-third of senior managers surveyed said their company was taking longer to hire new workers, known as “breadcrumbing.”

“It’s stringing folks along, right?” Roy said.

Boston ranked second among 28 U.S. cities in drawing out hiring.

“It’s a competitive area with competitive companies with competitive talent” with Boston home to larger companies that typically take longer to hire, Roy said. “If you have someone you like and want to hire, … don’t wait too long.”

That’s because 62% of professionals surveyed said they would lose interest in a job if they didn’t hear back within two weeks of the initial interview.

New jobs site

People looking for a more outdoorsy lifestyle can scan the job openings on a website featuring the Mount Washington Valley area.

The site, workinthewhitemountains.com, already has received more than 9,200 unique visitors as of last week. About two-dozen employers have posted about 50 jobs on the site, which went live Oct. 30.

“The main purpose of the website is to be a comprehensive resource for employers and potential employees for 2021 and beyond,” said Charyl Reardon, president of the White Mountains Attractions Association.

Her organization joined a group of chambers of commerce in the effort, spending about $20,000 in CARES Act money to develop and support the website.

Folks from California, Florida, Virginia and New York have visited the site, showing the widespread geographic interest in the North Country.

Workforce realignment

You can earn a degree as a licensed nursing assistant at White Mountains Community College in Littleton, but you can’t snag college credit for skiing.

“I wish,” college president Charles Lloyd said the other day.

Lloyd, who also oversees locations in Berlin and North Conway, is looking to create a higher profile for the Littleton location, which shares space with New Hampshire Employment Security and is within walking distance of Littleton’s charming Main Street. He’s pushing to get funds to construct a $7 million building out back that could offer classes as soon as spring 2023 in repairing blades for wind turbines — an industry, Lloyd said, that could flourish under President Joe Biden.

“We will be bringing diesel heavy equipment technology from Berlin, IT, foundational manufacturing, and industrial mechanics/energy technology (including electric vehicles, generations, and turbine maintenance),” he said in an email following my recent visit to the college’s Littleton Academic Center.

And for those skiers, Cannon Mountain is only about a 20-minute drive south.

In the meantime, Lloyd is seeing more people over age 25 attending classes there, including workers displaced by the pandemic who previously worked in area hotels and restaurants now seeking a new career.

“There’s really a workforce realignment,” Lloyd said.

“There are people that have either lost their jobs or had hours reduced that can be reskilled to align with open positions while we still need to work collaboratively with employers to recruit a workforce to the North Country and train them accordingly,” he said. “It is truly a team approach.”

Lloyd also has been talking with Jim Kisch, president and CEO at Passumpsic Bank and chairperson of the Vermont Bankers Association, about lecturing at the college or out in the community.

“I see like a workshop series or guest speakers; something fun,” Lloyd said.

What’s Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire’s workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.

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