NASHUA TELEGRAPH: Report: NH manufacturing needs to shake the ‘four D’s’ – dirty, dark, dangerous, declining
As originally appearing in Nashua Telegraph

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Manufacturing in New Hampshire is doing pretty well – boosted locally by defense contractors in specialties like signal processing and optics as well as long-established strengths in precision machining – according to a new report, but it faces obstacles including poor “brand awareness” that worsens the problem of an aging workforce.

That problem, plus well-known obstacles like high energy costs and a shortage of financing and support to help smaller firms grow quickly, could thwart a promising rebirth of manufacturing in the state and region, argues “The Case for New England’s Manufacturing Revolution,” released by The New England Council and Deloitte Consulting.

The report argues that the region is poised to benefit from a shift to advanced manufacturing. This term encompasses a number of technologies such as 3-D printing, robotics, nanotechnology and software controls, which combined can compensate for the high wages and high costs that drove traditional manufacturing out of New England.

But advanced manufacturing depends on relatively specific, and often changing, skills among workers. One of the steps necessary for New Hampshire to take advantage of the shift is to overcome the association what the report calls “the four D’s,” in which manufacturing is seen as being dirty, dark, dangerous and declining.

“New England faces a shortage of qualified labor to sustain growth, and advanced manufacturing in particular suffers from a lack of brand awareness that keeps talent at arm’s length,” the report says. “Coupled with a generation of incumbent workers nearing retirement, the concerns over where to find and how to train the next generation of advanced-manufacturing workers is reaching critical levels.”

This lament is not new; the state’s community college system is struggling to overcome the old image and attract students to manufacturing-related subjects, while the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has cited it as one of the obstacles to a resurgence in manufacturing in the country as a whole.

Even if workers are attracted, they must be trained in increasingly technical, and often changing, skills. And unlike past generations, unskilled manufacturing workers are now rarely hired and trained in house, creating the need for schools and other training systems.

“It is no longer practical to assume that one employer will shoulder the investment of training what has become a highly mobile and flexible workforce,” according to the study.

The report points to programs such as industry-designed education partnerships in Vermont, industry engagement with curriculum development at Keene State University, and work to develop standardized curriculum for advanced manufacturing courses in Connecticut community colleges.

Despite these concerns, the report makes clear that manufacturing is important to New Hampshire and is doing well.

The report says that more than 12 percent of New Hampshire’s gross domestic product was related to manufacturing in 2012, 70 percent of which is in advanced manufacturing. The report said more than 45,000 state jobs are at advanced technology firms.

“Even these high percentages may be slightly misleading, as it is almost impossible to be a manufacturer in New England without incorporating some aspects of advanced manufacturing,” the report says.

Further, it says New Hampshire’s per-capita GDP in manufacturing has grown since before the recession, rising 8 percent from 2006 to 2012. But employment in the field has yet to hit pre-recession levels, leading to the possibility that “employment expansion could be on the horizon” as firms try to take advantage of growth.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531, dbrooks@nashua telegraph.com or @GraniteGeek.

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