New Hampshire’s good news problem

Sure, our unemployment rate is low, but we also have thousands of very well-paying job openings going unfilled. CSC's Matt Cookson, also the executive director for the NH High Tech Council, offers research and ideas for marketing New Hampshire and its workforce, a key initiative for 2016.

Yes, this article is starting with an oxymoron in the headline. How can good news be a problem? Here’s how: Our state's unemployment rate is now down to 3.3 percent, which puts us in the range of being a state that is fully employed. That’s a great sound bite. However, we have thousands of very well-paying job openings right now going unfilled. That’s bad news because it means we are not attracting or growing a skilled workforce that can meet our labor needs.

The NH High Tech Council works closely with the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development to track trends in the tech sector – by job, region, salary and other core metrics. Usually the number of job openings aligns closely with the number of hires. But beginning in early 2015, the trend lines separated and a gap of more than 2,000 more technology-related jobs remain vacant on average in 2015.

Job categories with the largest gaps between openings and new hires include software developers for applications and systems, industrial engineers, computer systems analysts (think big data) and web developers. The average annual salary of these jobs is more than $100,000. In short, we have a skills gap and if it goes unaddressed, we will lose an opportunity to grow and prosper as a state.

It’s time to toot our horns a bit. New Hampshire has a high quality of life, no income tax, great job openings, lakes, mountains and ocean, and a unique quirkiness that makes it a special place to stay, work, and play.

While we get hung up on looking at growth barriers from the side of the business owner and manager (high business taxes, energy and healthcare costs), we need to look at talent acquisition from the employee perspective and tout that.

Addressing the challenge

There are two primary ways to address this shortage.

The first: provide targeted education and training to New Hampshire residents who are currently under-employed or want to change careers. It is estimated that about 200,000 New Hampshire residents started but did not complete college. That’s a great target audience.

The second way is to develop and launch a marketing plan geared toward bringing talent into New Hampshire. We did this organically for several decades, but the in-migration of skilled workers dried up nearly 10 years ago. Other states have become more aggressive at marketing themselves to young adults but New Hampshire has never been serious about supporting a comprehensive marketing effort.

We can lead with our strength and build off it. We are a tech state – there are 44,700 tech jobs as defined by the North American Industry Classification (NAICS) codes, which is 33 percent higher than the national average on a per capita basis. Our primary “tech corridor” runs from Nashua north to Manchester and then over to the Seacoast region. Roughly 80 percent of our tech jobs are located in this area, and this is where the vast majority of the unfilled jobs are.

The NH High Tech Council is digging deeper into these numbers, identifying industry clusters that offer the greatest opportunity for growth, identifying skills gaps that can be addressed by our institutions of higher education, and laying the groundwork for a marketing effort.

We are also discussing this concept with other entities growing the STEM workforce as our state is too small to duplicate efforts. Stay tuned for more.