As businesses struggle to attract and hold onto younger workers, a recent survey shines some light on the problem areas and reveals some surprising reasons why young people are not flocking to the Granite State.
The lack of affordable housing—one of the top two reasons young professionals leave NH, according to a survey conducted for Stay Work Play NH and Eversource Energy—isn’t a shocking revelation. The other top reason, though, may surprise employers who can’t find enough applicants to fill open positions. The survey shows younger workers have a perception that the Granite State lacks job and career opportunities.
Will Stewart, executive director of Stay Work Play NH, says that when the nonprofit was established in 2009 to run a website and marketing effort geared to the 20- and 30-year-old demographic, the state had far more applicants than jobs. “But now that’s flipped,” he says. “Back then, when you asked businesses what their challenges were, they might mention health care and insurance, but now they say, ‘workforce, workforce and workforce.’”
Bill Quinlan, president of Eversource NH, says the state’s aging demographic is a big concern for the company, which has 1,500 employees in NH and 89,000 across the region. “One of our biggest challenges is how do we replace the talent that is toward the end of their career,” Quinlan says. “The energy sector is very different today and requires very different skills than it did in the past.” He says the survey starts to provide some answers to attract and retain the next generation of the workforce.
The survey, conducted in December by RKM Research of Portsmouth, polled 420 NH residents between the ages of 20 and 40 to find out whether they were planning to stay or go, and to learn the reasons why.
Stewart says the survey was partly inspired by the state Legislature’s desire to see “real numbers” and not just anecdotal evidence about the challenge of keeping young people in the state. The survey shows that beyond housing and quality jobs, there are social and cultural issues at stake.
When asked how likely they were to move out of NH in the next two years, fewer than 20 percent answered, “Definitely not.”
“With 22 percent reporting they are unsure, 16 percent saying they probably would move away and 14 percent saying they definitely would move—we’re in trouble,” Stewart says. “More than half of the young workers are thinking of going elsewhere.”
RKM found 17 percent of those surveyed are in college and 26 percent are not employed. Stewart says with close to 17,000 openings, it is surprising that so many are not working.
It is an indicator of the importance of better showcasing the opportunities that exist in NH, says Nathaniel Morneault, co-chair of Catapult, the Portsmouth-area young professionals network. “We have these limiting beliefs,” Morneault says. “How can we show that the opportunities are here and accessible? Anyone can
New Hampshire sells itself on quality of life and its robust outdoor offerings. And while the Mount Washington Valley (MWV) epitomizes that NH image, and has jobs to fill, it’s not enough. Jessica Wright, chair of Stay MWV (an effort to attract and retain young professionals) and member of the Governor’s Millennial Advisory Council, says the state’s most iconic tourist area has some unique challenges. “Lower wages are a real barrier for us,” Wright says. “So, we need to be very mission-based.”
That mission is to provide opportunities, advocacy and financial assistance for young professionals, and Stay MWV is doing just that by attacking one of the biggest barriers—student debt.
Wright says Stay MWV has raised $30,000 and already has 12 applicants with a combined debt load of $700,000. “Think about all the things they are not buying—a home, furniture—because of the debt,” Wright says. Applicants must live and work in the area and take part in the organization’s leadership program. “Be invested in our community and we will invest in you,” she says.
Lack of Culture and Diversity
Survey respondents also cited a lack of cultural opportunities, diversity and quality nightlife and entertainment as problems. Stewart says Stay Work Play NH plans to create regional guides that will show that even if a community lacks a certain option, it may be just up the road in the next city. “Not only do we have to sell a community, we have to sell a region,” he says.
Arnold Mikolo, community liaison at St. Anselm College in Manchester, agrees with the survey finding that NH’s lack of cultural diversity is an issue. While NH cities are becoming more diverse, census figures show 93.7 percent of the population is white. “Are we nurturing companies to be more diverse?” Mikolo asks. He says assisting companies with reaching diverse populations could help fill vacancies.
One Is the Loneliest Number
Also on the list of reasons young professionals plan to leave is loneliness and a feeling of isolation. “A surprising [finding] was that so many people reported not having friends nearby,” Stewart says. According to the survey, 21 percent are “friendless” and 25 percent have no family nearby.
Angie Lane, executive director of Red River Theatres in Concord, says as an artistic organization they have a role in bringing people together. “Networking events can’t be the only place for young professionals to meet,” Lane says. "We need to bring business, the arts and government together and remove the silos that separate ages and races.”
Stewart says the top challenges to emerge from the survey are addressing the isolation, addressing public policies that are not friendly to this demographic, and changing the perception that NH lacks opportunities for socialization and culture.
To meet these challenges, Stay Work Play NH will take on more of an advocacy role. The organization is looking ahead to the 2019 legislative session to prepare for issues-based advocacy.
Stewart says zoning is often a problem when the younger demographic wants to “live, work and play” all in the same place. Some communities have embraced mixed use in traditionally business-zoned downtowns, along with smaller square-foot requirements that help keep housing prices lower, but the state could do more. Stewart says younger workers are not willing to spend significant time commuting.
Yulya Spantchak, senior strategic learning and evaluation officer at the NH Charitable Foundation, says transportation is a huge issue. “Public transportation is an equity issue,” Spantchak says. “In Manchester, if you don’t have a car you cannot get around.” The state’s limited transit options are no match for nearby Boston, where 33 percent of workers use public transit, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Even as Stewart puts plans into action, analysis of the survey data will continue. He says they will look at crosstabs and dig deeper into the results. Benjamin DiZoglio, coordinator for iUGO, a young professionals network in Nashua, says he is particularly interested in the 21 percent who reported not having friends nearby and if this correlates to how long a person has lived in the state.
“Moving from New Hampshire is a complicated question because it’s easy to move just into Massachusetts, or even Maine and Vermont, but still spend a lot of time and money in New Hampshire because people love what the state has to offer, and they know moving out of the state doesn’t really mean leaving it behind,” DiZoglio says.
“What we do know is that New Hampshire is facing an affordable housing crisis that needs to be addressed if we want to retain our workforce.”
The focus isn’t just in attracting young professionals. Stay Work Play NH formed a partnership with the NH College and University Council to work on retaining a greater percentage of high school graduates and increasing in-state enrollment in colleges and universities.
Stay Work Play NH continues to provide a list of internship opportunities and work with young professionals’ networks.