College celebrates milestone for local workers

09/14/2015 by Caitlin Andrews

ROCHESTER — New Hampshire state leaders and community college officials came together Monday morning at Great Bay Community College’s Advanced Technology & Academic Center to celebrate the accomplishments made under a $19.7 million federal grant designed to educate more workers in advanced manufacturing skills.

The grant, which was given to the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration, will be ending on Sept. 30. The money is responsible for improving infrastructure, creating new business partnerships and training more than 7,700 New Hampshire residents in manufacturing skills, according to Ross Gittell, chancellor for CCSNH.

“This was the largest grant the community college system has ever received,” he said. “The state recognized a great need for a skilled work force, and now we’ve increased the enrollment in advanced manufacturing classes by 60 percent. Many of our students were hired before they even graduated.”

Bret Blanchard, an instructor in Great Bay’s Advanced Technology & Academic Center, was the first instructor hired for the center when it launched in 2013. He remembers the demographics for advanced manufacturing students. Generally, they were out of work, underemployed and a little older.

“But now we have a lot of younger, local students who are just out of high school who are taking interest in a lifelong career,” he said. “And most of them are hired. We have a nearly 100 percent employment rate, and the jobs stay local.”

One such student was Gwen DeYoung-Reynolds, 47, who said she had been out of work for nine months when she signed up for the ATAC program last year. A former certified long-term care instructor, she said she was attracted to the program because she saw a field she wanted to be a part of. She now works as an inspector at TurboCam International in Barrington.

“There’s so much potential for growth in so many directions,” she said. “When I toured the lab, I saw what could be done here and I wanted to be a part of it.”

ATAC Alumni Travis Preston said he was attracted to the possibility he saw for improvement in his employment situation.

“I started my career a year ago after I injured my back moving furniture. That was my job for seven years, and I could do it, but I didn’t see a future in it,” he said. “When I graduated I got hired by Safran almost right away; four months later, I’m a shift leader in my department.”

Gov. Maggie Hassen said it was success stories like DeYoung-Reynolds' and Preston’s, along with the state’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate, that underscores how vital it is for New Hampshire workers to have access to higher education in order to succeed.

“Granite staters are working as hard as they can to stay ahead,” she said. “And having access to a skilled work force is the biggest driving force in bringing businesses to an area.”

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the state needs to keep working to create the workers with the skills needed for the jobs available.

However, she urged everyone to continue to work together in supporting programs like the ATAC, as the federal grant did not get funded again this year.

“Our challenge is still to create skilled workers for the jobs available,” she said. “I hope we can continue to support programs like what’s happening in Rochester, because it is a success. The facts support themselves.”

Director of Great Bay’s ATAC Program Bruce Baker said the next step for the program is to continue to grow the work force. He hopes to eventually offset the costs of operation by recruiting more students and offering more non-credit classes.

“We hope to work toward being recognized as a nationally-accredited center of excellence for composite manufacturing,” he said.