Exploring Career Pathways and the Changing Face of Manufacturing in New Hampshire

By Pat Brothwell - February 12, 2020

Tenth-grade students at Nashua South, one of two high schools that make up the Nashua School District in Nashua, New Hampshire, used to do traditional job shadowing to get a sense of what they wanted to do after high school. Unfortunately, as with so many districts, liability challenges put a stop to this, so Kathy Tremblay, the lead CTE Instructor and a business teacher at Nashua South, knew she needed an alternative solution. Students at Nashua South still shadow, but not in the traditional sense. Now they shadow the CTE pathways they're interested in to see if those programs would be a good fit for them, with VirtualJobShadow.com as the catalyst to start this process. 

 Students at Nashua South take assessments and explore careers in their 10th-grade social studies class. There's a required career component to the economics course students must complete. However, rather than just have VirtualJobShadow.com satisfy said requirement, Kathy and her CTE Director Mike McQuilkin use the data they collect from VirtualJobShadow.com's career and interest assessments to identify students who may really thrive in one of the district's 18 CTE programs. Once they consult the generated reports, they have selected students meet with their career coordinator and get them set-up to shadow a pathway. 

 Kathy told me how in recent years she's seen this push for all students to go to a four-year college. We've seen it too and agree that it's not the answer for everybody. She said it makes sense for students to explore their careers in high school, so that they don't go into debt trying to explore them later. This is why CTE courses are so valuable. A real strength of these courses is that they show students how their academic courses can be applied to the real world. For example, a student who does not enjoy writing might find new meaningfulness in a marketing course. Kathy recounts how students will initially show disdain when she mentions algebra during her accounting class, but how quickly that disdain evaporates once they start realizing algebra's real-world applications. 

 There are some CTE programs the Nashua School District never has trouble filling. Kathy said that both the Health Sciences and Automotive programs have been "oversubscribed" in the past few years. Engineering experienced a slow start though, and manufacturing has struggled, with the latter program being put on hold twice due to low enrollment. 

 Nashua and nearby Manchester, the two largest cities in New Hampshire, were essentially built by manufacturing. Their locale on the shores of the Merrimack River made them ideal mill towns, and that's largely how they built and sustained themselves until post-World War II, when so much industry migrated south. This isn't a unique story, especially in the Northeast, where many a city still holds the industrial scars of their former glory days. This history can color the way residents and students from these towns feel about those jobs (feel free to quietly hum Billy Joel's "Allentown" while reading this). 

 Unlike many of those towns though, it didn't take years for industry to reestablish itself in Nashua. Sanders Associates, a defense firm that was eventually purchased by BAE Systems, set up shop in the early '50s and helped revitalize the city. New Hampshire is still a strong manufacturing hub. Aside from BAE Systems, which added 1,100 New Hampshire employees in 2018, well-known companies like New Hampshire Ball Bearing, Brazonics, Raytheon, GE Aviation, Oracle, Velcro, Texas Instruments, and Hitchiner Manufacturing are all employing residents of the Granite State. In fact,Hitchiner is helping Nashua South move their manufacturing program forward, along with a professor in the machining program at Nashua Community College. They're working with the CTE Director to write curriculum and create real-world projects. 

 Kathy said it's important for students to see real people working their real jobs and challenging the perceptions they may have grown up with throughout their lives. She said students sometimes have the preconceived notion that manufacturing is all tough labor, and don't realize the impact technology's had to modernize the industry.  They don't see the amount of money they could be making, especially because there's a shortage of skilled labor. This isn't particularly unique to New Hampshire. It's projected that by 2025, US manufacturing will have 2 million unfilled jobs due to a skills gap. New Hampshire itself is poised to add 42,000 manufacturing jobs by 2026, most notably in the tech and programming spheres. While New Hampshire was once known as a beacon of traditional manufacturing, it's now an epicenter where smart manufacturing meets tech companies, with jobs in robotics and cloud computing springing up. New Hampshire educators are stepping up to prep students for these roles. Nearby Manchester Community College made the news a couple of years ago when representatives from Tesla came to visit the chair of their manufacturing department, since the programmable logic controllers and robotics skills they were teaching were integral for their future workforce. They hired six students

 Technology and manufacturing aren't the only things changing rapidly in New Hampshire. Kathy spoke to how their population is shifting. ELL learners, specifically Spanish speakers, have increased significantly in the past ten years. She's grateful for the Spanish subtitles and transcriptions on VirtualJobShadow.com.

 It's important for students to see strong role models in career exploration. It matters who's visible. Nashua South's engineering program enrollment recently went from 3 to 100. Kathy credits the instructor, Theresa Rossetti, who she said is doing innovative things and is very visible as a representative of the engineering program to students in the school. Kathy's also using student visibility to get younger students excited about the world of work. 

 Each year, two students are selected from each CTE program to become that program's ambassadors. They work with their teachers throughout the year to ascertain exactly what about the program excites them most and would appeal to younger students, which they present during a two-minute "elevator pitch" during the district's CTE Showcase. Nashua School District has been doing the CTE Showcase for the past five years. It's held two days during their enrichment period and is the second step after VirtualJobShadow.com to help interested students identify which programs they'd like to shadow. 

 It certainly seems like the students of Nashua School District are in good hands thanks to their CTE Department. They've even ensured that their pathways align with the programs at local post-secondary institutions such as Southern New Hampshire University, Rivier University, Great Bay Community College, and Keene State College. Every program has an agreement with a college, whether that's articulation or transferable college credits. Kathy hopes to bring VirtualJobShadow.com to the middle and elementary schools, which they should be able to do through Perkins V legislation, so that career exploration is something even their youngest students have access to.

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