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Employee-employer gap must be filled

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Monday, September 04, 2017

For the next Community Conversation a panel of educators has been asked, “How can we create learning communities for the future?”

First, I love the term, “learning communities.” This suggests we are all in this together – and for our mutual benefit. I certainly believe this to be true. Why do we need to create a learning community? Because the strength of a community goes hand in hand with the strength of its schools – and we need each other to be successful.

As a former business person, as well as someone who has been involved with placing students in internships for 20 years, I believe experiential learning is increasingly key to student and community success.

As Ben Franklin noted, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

With such a low unemployment rate, N.H. employers really need to look more closely at how to recruit employees to fill job openings – particularly in manufacturing, health care and information technology (IT). Human resources staff are having a hard time filling many open positions. It’s important for businesses to reach out to students – and it is important for students and their families to know what career options are available locally. A better understanding of what skills and training are needed for those occupations is also helpful.

According to Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity report, only about one-third of jobs require four or more years of college. However, most jobs do require some sort of credential or specialized training, including those found in career technical education classes in high schools, as well as in community colleges.

So, how can students get more credentials and specialized training? Ideally, that would come from a blended community of learning. Local schools working with local businesses to involve students in experiential learning such as internships, tech camps, and summer jobs, etc. Perhaps reviving “externships” for staff to go into local businesses to better understand company skill sets could also be a possibility.

Most welcomed by both the schools and the businesses will be Nashua Community College’s proposed satellite campus coming to Peterborough, hopefully in the fall of 2018. Having a community college in the immediate area collaborating with local schools and businesses would be a big boon to our region and an exciting addition to our community of learning.

Mary Lou O’Neil is a former school-to-career coordinator at ConVal High School, currently on the National Committee for Competency-Based Learning, and involved in local workforce and economic development initiatives.