With less than 3 percent of New Hampshire residents unemployed, competition remains fierce for workforce, particularly in growing fields, such as education and health services and manufacturing.
New Hampshire’s unemployment rate sits at 2.6 percent, as of fall of 2019, meaning it has one of the top five lowest unemployment rates in the country, behind Vermont, South Carolina, Utah and North Dakota.
Regionally, that number is even lower, with Cheshire County having an unemployment rate of 2.2 percent – lower than the 2.3 percent unemployment in Vermont, which currently has the lowest unemployment in the country – and Hillborough County 2.4 percent.
Low unemployment is just a part of the New Hampshire landscape now, local employers said, and they have had to adjust to attract workers from their competitors.
Crotched Mountain Foundation is always growing, Human Resources Vice President Jon Dash said in an interview Friday. Not only on their main school and residential campus for students with developmental and physical disabilities in Greenfield, but their satellite programs as well, such as its Ready, Set, Connect centers, based in Concord, Manchester and Tilton. The program provides therapy and life skills training for autistic children. Though it was started 10 years ago, the program is still expanding, and expects to add another 75 to 100 positions to support the program, in addition to continually growing the staff at the Crotched Mountain campus.
That’s not out of step with the rest of the state when it comes to education and health services.
According to statistics compiled by the state’s Employment Security, Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, education and health services has been towards growth in the last two years, adding 1,300 jobs in 2017 and 2,040 in 2018.
Demand in the health care field has remained high, particularly for nurses.
Patrick Lyons, administrator of Jaffrey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, said that’s a reality the facility has been living with for a long time.
“We’re always looking for nurses, [registered nurses] and [licensed practical nurses],” Lyons said.
There is room for growth at Jaffrey Rehabilitation, Lyons said, with the facility able to host up to 83 patients, and currently operating with 52 beds. As their capacity grows, staffing will remain a challenge, he said, and it becomes a matter of being more attractive to potential candidates, especially as southern New Hampshire competes with employment opportunities across the border.
Lyons said that means offering things beyond just a competitive wage, such as better benefits and sign on bonuses.
Dash said Crotched Mountain Foundation has gone beyond even that, creating on-campus housing for employees, both transitional housing for people moving into the area, and temporary housing for weekend employees who commute a long distance for work, so they don’t have to make the trip back and forth. And Crotched Mountain begins to offer benefits to employees at 30 hours, to make part-time positions more attractive.
“With that low unemployment, it’s a competitive job market, and it’s challenging attracting staff,” Dash said. “And the Monadnock Region has another challenge because we’re not close to an urban center. We have the usual incentives like sign on and referral bonuses, but we also have to have that next level of rewards.”
Dash said Crotched Mountain has been breaking into the Massachusetts market for employees, which means it must have something to offer to compete with Massachusetts $12 per hour minimum wage, which far outstrips the New Hampshire minimum, which is set at the federal standard of $7.25.
Last year, the legislature passed a bill that would have increased New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2020 and up to $12 per hour in 2022, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu.
Manufacturing is another area in New Hampshire that is seeing recent job gains, adding 3,170 jobs in the last two years in the state.
MilliporeSigma in Jaffrey, a medical manufacturer, is among those looking to grow.
Already one of Jaffrey’s biggest employers with about 1,000 employees, MilliporeSigma expects to add another 40 positions this year, as part of an ongoing expansion plan for its facilities, according to spokesperson Karen Tiano. The majority of those positions will be assemble and technical operator roles.
Tiano said the need for technical manufacturers is acute in the state.
“Within manufacturing is where we need the most people. As we learn more about the high school demographic, we find that very few even consider manufacturing as a career path,” Tiano said. “So, our outreach efforts involve tapping into schools and also connecting with the parents to educate them about the kinds of viable career paths manufacturing offers, especially in the life science and biotech sector.”