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Here & Now‘s Robin Young is crisscrossing New Hampshire as part of our Election Road Trip.
On Saturday, she stopped at a place where manufacturing is alive and well – the GE Aviation plant in Hooksett, where parts are made for commercial and military jet engines.
Business at the plant is booming – there is a backlog of demand for some new engines – but GE is having trouble attracting young workers.
During her tour of the plant, Robin got to chat with plant manager Doug Folsom, as well as with employees Debbie Birdsey, Brad Slayton and John Saucier.
On the problematic demographics at the Hooksett GE Aviation plant
“Here our average age is right around 52 years old. So if you do the math, it says over the next 10 years we’re going to retire 50 percent of those 700 employees. So that’s put a huge burden on us to find replacements for those workers.”
Why finding replacements is so difficult
“The problem is there’s just a lack of qualified people in the state. It’s a national problem. There is a lack of qualified people for high tech manufacturing jobs in the work pool. Part of our challenge is that we have a low unemployment rate [in the state]. People have a lot of opportunities, they have a lot of alternatives out there. There just hasn’t been a lot of students coming out of high school and deciding to go into manufacturing or other technical careers.”
How qualified candidates need to be
“You either need to have worked somewhere else where you’ve got two to five years of manufacturing, technical experience or you need to go to a two-year technical college.”
Why no training programs are run by GE
“We’ve got a great community college system. I don t think the companies need to burden themselves with the overhead of running technical community colleges within the company or apprentice programs. So they get two-year degrees, while working here at GE. After two years we hire them full time. While they’re working full time here they go to school at night and GE we will pay for the rest of their four year education.”
Why it is difficult for the manufacturing sector to attract young workers
“I think there’s a misnomer that manufacturing is a dirty job, it’s an old job, it’s a job that’s been outsourced to third world countries like China or Mexico. In fact, that’s just not the case. Manufacturing is for New Hampshire our number one economic engine. We’re actually sourcing in work from some of the countries that it got sourced out to 20 years ago. I think the idea of hiring employees 20 years ago was you put an ad in the newspaper and you wait around to see who shows up. I think today that’s totally outdated. The job of staffing is a much broader responsibility for a company like GE to be out in the community, to be visiting high schools, to be inviting high school principals as well as advisers here to our shop, inviting students in to see what we do. We’ve got to get the word out that there’s exciting, interesting, good paying jobs in manufacturing.”