We Asked, You Answered: What Are N.H.'s Workforce Challenges?

May 24, 2019

New Hampshire's workforce shortage means many employers are struggling to find qualified labor. But in a time of 2.4% unemployment, many Granite Staters are still struggling to cover their basic needs.
Credit Ali Oshinskie/NHPR

New Hampshire ranks 3rd in employment as of April 2019, with an unemployment rate at 2.4%.

It may seem like an ideal situation, but sectors of the local economy are struggling, and many Granite Staters are underemployed or unemployed. 

The Exchange took a week to explore the challenges to New Hampshire’s workforce and we heard from you, at job fairs, online, and on our show. (Click here to explore the series.)

Themes emerged from your feedback, so we wanted to share how much we appreciate your stories, your struggles and successes. 

We also put out a call on Facebook: What would have to change to make New Hampshire a more attractive place to live and work?

It was a popular topic, check it out here or see comments sprinkled throughout this article.

Jobs & Housing Do Not Align

Bill was commuting from Concord to Lexington, MA for work…

"The pay was better than I could get in NH by a rather large margin--20% pay increase.  What I didn't account for was the hours I spent each week stuck on Route 3. I lost time with my family, and I was very stressed. I quit that job after 6 months for a cut in pay. I got back 2 hours of each day I used to spend in traffic, and I am much happier. While increased pay would make NH jobs more attractive, businesses need to sell New Hampshire, and the better quality of life it affords those of us who work here."

We asked what would the state have to offer to keep you here?

Tom is a representative from Portsmouth worried about where people can afford to live...

"I have noticed that seacoast job openings are staying open longer and businesses are struggling to find good people. I believe we may have what is known as a job / housing mismatch. Many of the jobs we have are on the lower end of the pay scale (for example food prep). However, the costs of living are high. This makes it harder and harder for people who work here, to live here. Our workforce is having to live farther and farther away."

We asked what would the state have to offer to keep you here?
 

Bill thinks the New Hampshire workforce is headed south every day...

"The NH advantage, simply put, is Massachusetts!  The sound you hear every morning is the hoards of people leaving for Massachusetts on I-93 and I-95. Over my years in NH, I've noticed that our devotion to the low wage and low tax ideology has negative impacts. NH is saved only by the fact that it is close to the Greater Boston area, otherwise it would be in the same condition as Maine and Vermont."

[HEAR MORE: Listen to our week-long In Depth series on New Hampshire's Workforce Struggles]

Workers need more support, pay and training

Michelle works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities...

“We have reached a crisis level for hiring direct support professionals. We are unable to attract, hire and retain qualified caregivers due to the low wages set by state contracts and medicaid reimbursement rates. We lose people to retail or other jobs that pay equal to, or even less than, what we are able to pay ($11/hr) and do not require the level of skill, training and compassion required to support our very vulnerable individuals."

[In Depth: Understanding N.H.'s Workforce Challenges, Including The Statistics And Trends] 

Carla just moved from Massachusetts to Portsmouth and she’s looking for a tech job...

"I've had 4 phone interviews starting with salary questions. While these jobs demand different skill sets, none of these companies were willing to pay a base salary of 40K! I know the living expenses are higher on the Seacoast, but no matter, I can't imagine supporting oneself on anything less than 40K. Back to Mass I go!"

What would the state have to offer to keep you here?

M is looking for an engineering job but can’t seem to get hired….

“Companies seem to be unwilling to provide any on-the-job training. I’ve often found several openings at the mid-career level and none at entry level. In other words, the qualifications for these positions is to already have experience in that job for several years. It is obvious that if no one is hiring entry level candidates and training them in the skills specific to that role, then there is no pipeline of experienced engineers to fill these positions.”

[READ MORE: Some Say Untapped Workers Are Plentiful, Could Help Ease N.H.'s Labor Shortage]

Joe chose a career in construction in the 80s because he could get great pay and benefits but today is a different story…

"Construction workers were a dime a dozen throughout the 80’s, 90’s and up until the Great Recession. Construction lost 8,000 workers overnight and many were unemployed for the first time. NH wages in construction are among the lowest in the country. The industry has to increase wages and actually provide benefits somewhere close to Massachusetts rates. That’s where are skilled workforce is going. Gov. Sunnunu has a bill on his desk that would require employers to pay area standard wages on public construction projects. Yet NH construction employers refuse to support it."

Jennifer is a public school educator and a new mom...

"When I had my second baby, I hoped to take twelve weeks leave per the Family Medical Leave Act. My husband works for the same district, and under the FMLA, a spouse who works for the same company must split this time. As an educator, and one who continues to study early childhood, I found this to be highly hypocritical of our profession. I decided to resign from my position knowing that if I did not, then I would have to return to school with a very young infant at home. I do believe that NH will lose highly qualified professionals if they do not put focus on NH families."

What would the state have to offer to keep you here?

Bill was senior executive who managed some of the hiring at a NH-based company...

"The money is at the top of the list. NH companies often don't budget at appropriate rates of pay to hire the type of people they need in current conditions. Competing with Massachusetts companies is a problem because they pay well. It's not just that: aside from the Seacoast area, NH is not attractive to highly valuable working-age people."

Young Professionals Don't Like N.H's Cities

[ICYMI: N.H. Sees Substantial Increase in Young Adults Moving In, December 2018]

What would the state have to offer to keep you here?

Kelly doesn’t find Concord to be welcoming to young people…

"I can't safely ride a bike to work because there aren't safe bike lanes or paths. There is no reliable public transportation--like a train to Boston.The availability of quality retail options is pathetic. I drive 20 minutes south to my nearest Whole Foods and I order almost everything else online. There are very few quality places to go out to eat or drink. I’m looking to buy a house been but all of the houses in my price range would require thousands of dollars of essential maintenance or renovation- so I'm still renting at an enormous cost."

 

What would the state have to offer to keep you here?

Wes is about to high-tail it out of New Hampshire as soon as he’s done with school…

"I don't know how to explain it but I have never felt a connection to the state and I have lived here for ten years. I have also lived in Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts, all of which I would to choose to live in before living in New Hampshire again."

One Question With An Answer...

Zakk: I keep hearing about all of the great programs where companies will pay for your training but I am having trouble finding information on some of these resources. Is there a website where I find these programs that the state boasts of?

NHPR: Yes, Zakk, there is.

Stay, Work, Play NH has a page devoted to finding work in state. This includes some information on apprenticeship programs and resources to polish your resume.

We also attended some job fairs run by the NH Office of Employment Security to hear a little more from you. They were typically full of employers and short on the job seekers.

Young Professionals Organizations are playing a vital role in providing the resources and communities that Millennial and Gen X residents desire. There are over a dozen groups spread throughout the state helping young adults do everything from pay down student debt to just make friends in the region.