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Manchester educators: Looking at needs of business key

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 15. 2013 8:47PM

MANCHESTER — Fifteen city educators will visit various businesses in the coming months to discuss how to bridge the gap between what schools teach and what skills employers need from future workers.

“We really wanted the people who are most influential in children’s lives to be able to understand what those employers need from their future workforce and what their expectations are,” Robin Comstock, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Educators from the city’s three public high schools and Henry J. McLaughlin Jr. Middle School will meet once a month between Wednesday and June to learn about various industries, including hospitality, technology, retail, government, non-profit and public safety.

Comstock said the pilot program could be extended to surrounding communities in subsequent years.

One participant is Barbara Vaillancourt, the extended learning opportunity coordinator at Manchester West High School. She helps students in some cases earn high school credits while exploring their career interests.

“I’m looking to build partnerships with the community to offer kids a chance to have an internship or to do a job shadow or to interview a business owner and fuel their knowledge because that may be a career field they may want to get into,” Vaillancourt said later.

She said she has two students interested in becoming police officers, and the group’s first meeting is Wednesday at the city police station talking about careers in public safety.

Robin Galeaz, a seventh-grade math teacher at McLaughlin, said, she wants to learn what employers are looking for in terms of math. She hopes to incorporate that into a research presentation for her students.

“It’s never too early (for students) to figure out what they want to do and what schooling they need,” she said.

William Gillett, dean of Southern New Hampshire University’s School of Business, looked forward to the program the university is helping sponsor.

“On the accountability side, it’s important that we understand what is needed out there in the workplace and programs like this bringing business into communication with the educators are tremendously useful and tremendously helpful,” Gillett said.

Debra Livingston, Manchester’s superintendent of schools, said a visit a couple years ago to Whelan Engineering in Charlestown where she was superintendent was eye-opening.

“I will tell you as a superintendent and as a professional and as an educator, it really changed my view in many ways and my view of the opportunities that there are for our students,” she said. “Helping me understand more how we need to connect with businesses and with our community, so that we understand the kind of employees that our new manufacturing and other businesses are looking for.”

That later led to establishing a six-week course for students in advanced manufacturing.

Frank Wells, managing director of Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc., in Manchester, relied on his professional experience for a metaphor.

“I think it’s about bridge building, not just because I’m in the bridge-building business, but it doesn’t hurt,” he said. “But when we look at the students, the teachers, the business community and higher education, they need to be bridged. We need to make sure that the expectations of business people are being met, and we need to make sure that the courses and curriculum that are taught are relevant to those businesses, so I really see it as bridge building.”

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