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Jeanne Shaheen and Ted Gatsas: Jobs Corps will be good for New Hampshire's young people

May 08. 2013 11:03PM

After a decade-long, bipartisan effort in New Hampshire, the Department of Labor is finally poised to begin construction on a new Job Corps center in Manchester. This is a welcome development that will dramatically change the life course of the hundreds of economically disadvantaged young adults who will receive critical education and career training opportunities. An investment in our young people is an investment in New Hampshire's future, and by all accounts that is great news.

In the last decade, the unemployment rate for young people has been steadily climbing both nationally and in New Hampshire. Last year, more than 14 percent of New Hampshire youth ages 16 to 24 were unemployed - nearly triple the rate for adult workers in the state. The prospects for young workers without a high school diploma are even more troubling, as the median income for workers in Manchester with less than a high school education is barely above $20,000.

Employment data are not just about numbers; these are real stories with human faces. We must provide vulnerable student populations with the tools to succeed and become skilled and productive members of the workforce. With the Manchester School of Technology coming on-line this past fall, we are seeing alternative education fully engage students to focus on their studies and careers. New Hampshire's Job Corps center will provide another option for students from Manchester and throughout the state who have struggled in traditional learning environments and may otherwise drop out.

Bringing Job Corps to New Hampshire is a hand up, not a handout. The typical student enters the program without any work experience or qualifications, but after one year of Job Corps training, 72 percent of participants are employed or enrolled in school, according to Labor Department data. Helping these individuals obtain a diploma or equivalency will increase their median earnings by more than 30 percent, lifting them out of poverty and into rewarding, in-demand careers. Successful Job Corps graduates will be self-sufficient contributors to our communities and economy who will no longer need to draw on public services. That is hardly a controversial aim.

While some Job Corps centers have underperformed, the Manchester center has groomed itself for success. The Manchester School District will be competing to operate the Job Corps center in what could become an innovative, first-in-the nation partnership. Students at the Manchester campus will also gain a practical, real-world education with on-the-job training opportunities, which will give them a foothold in growing industries such as health care, homeland security and advanced manufacturing. Our economy is demanding a skilled workforce, and with the Manchester Jobs Corps center, New Hampshire will be suited to meet that demand.

Forty eight other states already have Job Corps centers. Thanks to the foresight of a diverse group of leaders from the government, business and nonprofit sectors, New Hampshire will soon join their ranks. With youth unemployment at its highest levels since World War II, we cannot complete construction and begin serving students at Manchester Job Corps center soon enough.

Jeanne Shaheen is a Democratic U.S. senator from New Hampshire. Ted Gatsas, a Republican, is mayor of Manchester.

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