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Doug Folsom and Lucille Jordan: Company-specific community college training helps all

The national economy is starting to improve, and there are opportunities to expand employment nationally and in New Hampshire. The New England Economic Partnership recently forecast that manufacturing employment in the region will increase over the next four years. This is after over three decades of decline. This is good news for the region and New Hampshire. Manufacturing jobs pay well, with average wages one-third higher than the state all-industry median and strong economic and job multiplier effects with local suppliers to New Hampshire manufacturers.

New Hampshire has a strong base of advanced manufacturing companies. Many of these companies are linking innovation and production, designing and producing new products and materials efficiently for global markets. The main limiting factor to employment and market growth for these companies nationally and in New Hampshire has been identified as the availability of an appropriately skilled workforce, with advanced machining and computing technology skills, using and controlling automated processes and robotic controls. States that develop the skilled workforce for advanced manufacturing will be able to increase employment and wages faster and stronger than those without appropriately skilled workers.

In New Hampshire, industry and education leaders are working in partnership to ensure the state is well positioned. One example is a recent partnership between Nashua Community College (NCC) and GE Aviation in Hooksett.

NCC and GE Aviation have developed a customized degree program that will be ready to enroll students beginning in the 2013-14 academic year. The new Associate of Science in GE Aviation Precision Manufacturing builds off of NCC’s existing aviation and precision manufacturing curriculum, incorporates paid co-ops for students at GE Aviation’s facility, and integrates instruction by college faculty and GE Aviation technical instructors to create a seamless experience for students.

As General Manager of GE Aviation and President of NCC, respectively, we are very proud of this partnership. It represents a true win-win scenario for New Hampshire students, the aviation manufacturing industry in New Hampshire, and the state as we seek to add jobs and advance an innovation-based economy.

This partnership creates an education-to-career pathway that also addresses affordability — thanks to a series of paid co-ops and NCC’s affordable tuition — and enables students to advance in their field by building concurrent educational and professional expertise.

GE Aviation and NCC were led to this partnership by several factors. One is the need within the advanced manufacturing sector for a pipeline of talented graduates with a solid foundation in precision manufacturing as well as industry-specific skills and knowledge. Another is GE Aviation’s practice of assessing the technical skills of prospective employees through a hands-on approach.

NCC’s recently enhanced advanced manufacturing curriculum and labs provide a strong foundation for the level of instruction the program requires, and NCC’s willingness to customize its program to meet the specific needs of the aviation sector is key. And the ability to offer an affordable and accessible way for students to enter and advance within this field is essential. Our partnership meets all of these needs.

GE Aviation employs approximately 700 people at its Hooksett facility, many engaged in R&D and making parts for commercial airplanes, military fighter jets and Blackhawk helicopters. Like many other advanced manufacturers, GE Aviation has struggled to fill jobs as business expands and older, highly skilled workers retire. While GE expects to provide training for new hires, there is a tremendous advantage to hiring employees who come in with specific skills and knowledge in addition to a college degree.

That is why the partnership between industry and education is so important, and why both GE Aviation and NCC were more than willing to invest the time and resources into creating a customized associate degree program. GE Aviation also has partnered with Manchester Community College, another of the state’s two-year public colleges, to do training for new hires and incumbent workers in areas such as teamwork and other “soft skills” that are essential for success in the advanced manufacturing environment. The new customized associate degree advances the community college partnership to a new level, building off of NCC’s program in aviation technology and its precision manufacturing curriculum.

Graduates of the Associate of Science in GE Aviation Precision Manufacturing will be career-ready and will have an academic credential they can build on for future career advancement. While this specific program will benefit GE and New Hampshire’s aviation industry, the partnership also reflects a model New Hampshire’s community colleges are embracing in partnering with industry to align curriculum and strengthen career pathways for students. Together, we are creating a strong and sustainable foundation for economic growth and the expansion of skilled employment in New Hampshire.

Doug Folsom is general manager of GE Aviation in Hooksett. Lucille Jordan is president of Nashua Community College.

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