B usinesses and colleges are looking to build stronger pipelines to the next generation of New Hampshire workers.
A $300,000 federal grant will help Manchester Community College widen those paths.
The grant will be used partly to convince high schools to teach mechatronics, according to Dan Larochelle, department chair of advanced manufacturing and robotics at MCC.
Mechatronics is a combination of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science, he said.
“What mechatronics does is it crosses all of those disciplines all at once,” Larochelle said. “That means when students hit the workforce, they’ll have a larger skillset to solve problems as a technician.”
New Hampshire businesses grapple with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates with thousands of job openings unfilled, often because of a mismatch between employers’ needs and workers’ skill levels.
Frank Xydias, engineering teacher at Milford High School & Applied Technology Center, said that Milford since 2013 has offered a series of concentrated credits toward the mechatronics certificate program at Manchester Community College.
“This grant does many wonderful things; it enhances what we do, connects us better to industry standards/equipment and better prepares students for career pathways,” Xydias said. “It also allows students to make better career decisions for their future.”
Career planning for students starts when they are children at home, he said.
“As children we are inquisitive. It is important to fuel that inquisitive nature so they can develop experiences they can take to school,” Xydias said. “We see that career planning is taking place in elementary school, and cartoons even showcase STEM learning attributes.”
Educators “working with parents and community partners to increase career pathway awareness will better prepare our students for careers that do not yet exist,” he said.
Toral Cowieson, chair of the New Hampshire Tech Alliance, welcomed such federal funds.
“Federal grants like this are certainly of value because they are designed to meet a very specific training need where there is industry demand for up-skilled workers,” Cowieson said. “The rapidity of technological change means that businesses need different types of skilled workers. Having students trained to the specific skills required by businesses is a win-win for all. Fortunately we are hearing from our members a desire and follow-up for tighter partnerships across academia and business to prepare students for the future — and for now.”
Larochelle said he plans to develop curriculum and then conduct workshops for high school teachers, guidance counselors and administrators.
“We want to educate them on the opportunity of what that would look like in their school,” he said.
Larochelle said the grant also will educate people on mechatronics as well as restructure some of MCC’s curriculum.
He said the $300,000 grant could be the first of several government grants regarding mechatronics, including funds for equipment.
Emily Penaskovic, a board member of the New Hampshire Tech Alliance, said providing New Hampshire students with access to these subjects during high school is a great way to make our state’s educational programs stand out and keep the state competitive.
“If we can engage New Hampshire residents while they are still in high school and keep them engaged through a community college program and potentially a job placement program, that will go a long way towards retaining that talent over the long term,” Penaskovic said. “Ultimately, the students benefit by getting invaluable experience early on, and local companies benefit from an enhanced talent pipeline.”