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N.H. Heating Oil Company Expands Training Program Amid Workforce Shortages

Dead River Company

New Hampshire's heating fuel industry is trying to recruit workers at a time of low unemployment.

The Dead River Company, which serves Northern New England, is expanding a program to employ and train recent trade school graduates as fuel technicians or truck drivers.

At the same time, training director Dan Carrigan says his company and the industry as a whole are looking to the future of home heating, amid a push to transition away from fossil fuels.

Carrigan says this includes expanding their propane business, in a region with the oldest housing stock and by far the highest use of heating oil in the country.

In the short term, though, Carrigan says his company is dealing with an aging workforce -- their service area includes the three oldest states in the country -- as well as low jobless rates -- New Hampshire's is the third lowest in the nation.

Carrigan says many of their customers have made long-term investments in older homes with oil- and propane-fueled heating systems. 

"Our more immediate need and our customer base is pretty stable, if not growing," Carrigan says. "And from what we can see it's going to be there for a while." 

He says it's particularly hard to recruit truck drivers straight out of high school or trade school. Drivers must be 21 or older to get a necessary hazmat certification. 

Dead River began its training program last year and has now expanded it to cover propane skills. More than 120 employees are enrolled for this year. He says they may offer to cover applicants' trade school tuition, on a case-by-case basis.

The website ZipRecruiter says the average starting salary for oil technicians in New Hampshire is more than $50,000, and the state's average HVAC tech salary is third-highest in the country.

Dead River isn't the only energy company that's expanded a workforce development program in New Hampshire recently. The solar installer ReVision opened a training center in Brentwood in 2018.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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