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Business Perspective: ‘Work As Learning’ creative step toward easing worker shortage

Business Perspective: ‘Work As Learning’ creative step toward easing worker shortage

New Hampshire’s workforce shortage is more than a short-term problem and there isn’t one silver bullet solution. But the Granite State is innovative and entrepreneurial and will find not one, but many creative ways to overcome the challenge.

The state Department of Education’s new “Work As Learning” program, officially unveiled in a press conference Aug. 8, is a perfect example. The Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire's statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate, was proud to join the DOE in the initiative to provide high school students with real-life work experiences and academic credit while being paid.

Work As Learning is a partnership between the DOE and nearly 200 New Hampshire businesses that have been certified by the state. BIA is happy to help promote and support the program and 16 of our member employers are among those partnering with the state.

The initiative allows up to 1,000 students in grades 9-12 to take jobs with certified companies. Employers will pay up to $15 an hour and the state will reimburse 50% of the wage for up to 480 hours. State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the program leverages up to $2.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds via federal COVID relief money. The program is scheduled to run for two years and the goal is to show enough value to businesses to receive new and continued funding.

The workforce shortage is the number one issue for BIA members. We don’t have enough workers for the open positions and that’s a long-term threat to the New Hampshire economy’s vibrancy. Solving the worker shortage will require many efforts, but one of the values of Work As Learning is it provides immediate help. Many different businesses will use this program to solve some of their workforce challenges now and build a pipeline of future full-time workers.

Childcare is a great example. The lack of affordable and quality childcare was often cited among employers’ biggest hurdles during our roundtable policy talk series in June. That shortage is adding to the overall worker shortage as many parents can’t find available slots to allow them to reenter the workforce.

The press conference unveiling Work As Learning included the Rochester Child Care Center, one of the first businesses to register for the program. Executive Director Cora-Lynn Hoppe called it a win-win, saying it will give teens a chance to explore career options while giving the center much needed help when recruiting new workers is difficult.

“The funds help us hire assistants, which also allows for greater childcare capacity,” Hoppe said.

Spaulding High School rising senior Kylie Mohan is employed by the center with the help of the program. She said working at the daycare gave her confidence to take childcare courses and she expects to have her certification by the time she graduates next year.

Work As Learning allows employers to introduce young workers to a particular career, from childcare to manufacturing. There are amazing career opportunities in manufacturing, but opportunities to learn about them typically have been limited. There’s no better way to show the benefits of careers in manufacturing and the trades then by doing some of that work. As they say, learning is doing.

Our roundtable series revealed many employers see the value of internships but need support and promotion by the state to grow those opportunities. When high school students can earn $15 an hour or more in retail and service jobs, state financial support is critical to make internships financially viable for teens and employers. Over time, the value of internships will prove to be more than the pay received, but it helps and Work As Learning will expose students to real-life work experiences they simply may not have access to otherwise.

The best solutions to economic problems, like a worker shortage, often come when government and industry work together. We praise the Department of Education for leading the way and encourage BIA members and employers at large to join the Work As Learning program.

Employers interested in signing up for the program can visit Anyone with questions about the program, including students who would like to participate, can email Nicole Levesque at

Michael Skelton is president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association.

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