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Study: Local Businesses Grow Their Own Talent

White River Junction — There are plenty of good, high-paying jobs available in the Upper Valley, but employers tend to grow their own talent in response to a limited trained local labor pool and the difficulty in attracting outside candidates to the area, a study by the Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. has found.

The 2014 Upper Valley Workforce Needs Assessment, released last week, found employers reported taking up to a year to find qualified computer programmers, industrial mechanics, lab technicians, engineering managers and other skilled workers.

As a result, they tend to hire promising but inexperienced young people who could be trained on the job, said Joan Goldstein, executive director of the Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. who directed the study. The information gained from the study could result in new opportunities for businesses and workers and could influence how students, parents and educators approach curriculum and training, she said.

Interviewers talked with representative sfrom 26 industries in the Upper Valley portions of Orange, Windsor, Grafton and Sullivan counties. The focus was on three sectors — health care and social assistance, manufacturing and professional and scientific and technical services — and targeted jobs paying above $17.20 per hour, or $35,775 per year.

The study didn’t look at the area’s largest employers — retail, accommodation and food service companies — which Goldstein said have “awful pay.” She said interviewers found that students often take lower-paying jobs in those fields, thinking good jobs aren’t available and hoping to find something better later.

“What we found was they get stuck in those fields, and after they’ve been there for a while, industries won’t hire them because they don’t have the skills to be retrained.”

The study also found that because Upper Valley employers grow their own talent, it “creates opportunities for workers and employers, but it also creates challenges, such as connecting young people with local careers and preparing employees for management roles.”

“Middle and high school students may not realize that an entry-level job with a local manufacturer could lead to an international career with management responsibilities or that a passion for developing computer games could be a match for an entry-level programming job at a local software developer,” the study said.

“We need to be working with the schools and businesses to get the message across that students need to be taking classes like geometry and geography and they don’t have to be accepting dead-end jobs,” Goldstein said.

The report is intended to launch a collaborative effort among Upper Valley businesses, education institutions and government to develop training programs and curriculum that will prepare students for well-paid, local jobs.

“We feel like this study could create opportunities and could influence what is taught in the area’s schools. We found there are major gaps in what we’re teaching and that students need more math, English or science to prepare them,” she said. Programs are underway or in the planning stages to start putting the findings of the study into effect, she said.