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Training up ConVal students for the future of manufacturing in the region

  • Joe Salvaneschi of MilliporeSigma speaks with students in the Manufacturing Through Woodworking I class at ConVal Regional High School. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Students in the Manufacturing Through Woodworking I class meet with representatives from the region's largest manufacturers at ConVal Regional High School. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Students in the Manufacturing Through Woodworking I class meet with representatives from the region's largest manufacturers at ConVal Regional High School. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Students in the Manufacturing Through Woodworking I class meet with representatives from the region's largest manufacturers at ConVal Regional High School. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, September 10, 2018 4:59PM

Representatives from some of the region’s biggest manufacturers – and largest employers – got the opportunity to speak with students with a keen interest in their job field Thursday, as they met with the 18 students that make up ConVal’s newest Career and Technical Education course.

“This is an opportunity for kids to get their experience hands-on,” said Abe Ewing, the instructor for Manufacturing Through Woodworking I, the first part of a three-part course designed to prepare students for a career in any manufacturing field they might want to enter. “When they graduate, high school kids should be career-ready.”

The course, which includes two units of learning in the classroom, using woodworking tools and processes to teach manufacturing skills, as well as a capstone session where students will enter manufacturing fields to get an on-the-job look at manufacturing jobs. On Thursday, representatives from many local manufacturers, including MilliporeSigma, New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Monadnock Paper Mills, and Hitchiner Manufacturing, met with students who have enrolled in the course, to discuss with them the job opportunities and what they look for in entry-level candidates.

Manufacturing is an important piece of the state’s economy. According to statistics from the state’s National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturing makes up 11.5 percent of the state’s total gross product, and 65,700 people in the state were employed in manufacturing.

Almost all of New Hampshire’s exports are related to its manufacturing industry – and its exports have been rising well above the national average. Since 2003, New Hampshire manufacturing exports have grown by 135 percent, compared to the national average of 70 percent growth.

That’s why this kind of education is desperately needed, several manufacturers said at ConVal Thursday morning.

Joe Salvaneschi, an engineering manager for Jaffrey’s MilliporeSigma, said manufacturers are beyond the days where they can post a job ad and wait for candidates to walk in. Unemployment in the state is low, and the Monadnock Region doesn’t have huge population centers to pull from.

“You have to find alternative methods when you go to recruit,” Salvaneschi said. “Some of these kids are a few years away from entering the workforce, but we have to look that far down the road.”

Tim Sullivan, vice president of corporate affairs at Hitchiner Manufacturing in Milford, said giving students at the high school level opportunities to see how manufacturing works is good for both employers and employees. Giving them the opportunity to view manufacturing facilities will help dispel some of the myths around manufacturing – that it’s dirty or doesn’t pay well – and gives them the opportunity to view the array of jobs they could do, and whether they’re suited for them. And students from the ConVal program that enter the field will have at least some experience under their belt already.

Hitchiner is currently growing, Sullivan said. The manufacturer has 40 open positions as it is, and is planning to construct a new facility within a year, which will require another 85-100 positions to fill.

“It’s a growing time,” Sullivan said.

And for those who are interested in higher education, many of the representatives said their companies offer tuition reimbursement opportunities.

Ashley Gibson, 15, of Greenfield, said she decided to take the course to gain a solid foundation for a job after high school, though she hopes to study in the field of law. On Thursday, she said, she spoke with a representative who was willing to work with her to get an internship in the business’s law department, instead of the factory floor, if that’s where her interest lies.

“It’s important to have these kinds of skills, even if I’m not 100 percent sure that’s the career I want to go into,” Gibson said. “I like to have that kind of hands-on learning.”

Jacob Demers, 16, of Antrim, said the program would give him a good basis for a career that was a step-up from a minimum wage job right out of high school. He said he liked the unique nature of the program.

“You can go around the state and find other wood working shops, welding, auto tech. I haven’t heard of anything else like this,” he said.

Demers, who would like to make a career in welding, said he sees trades as a dying career path for many students of his generation. It’s important to him that trades programs are offered at ConVal, he said.

“I think it’s absolutely vital. Getting kids interested young is very smart for the workforce,” he said.

ConVal Dean of Faculty Michelle Voto said while students may be increasingly looking at a higher education pathway after high school the largest areas for growth in the state are manufacturing, health care and hospitality.

“For our students, it’s another path to be successful. We wanted to expand opportunities for them, and if you look at the data from the Department of Labor, as well as our regional needs, this is an area of growth,” Voto said.