The NH Department of Education recently launched the “Work! As Learning” program, which allows high school students to earn academic credit for paid real-life work experiences. Through Work! As Learning, the state is certifying NH businesses to hire up to 1,000 students in grades 9 through 12.
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 says 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.
Work! As Learning allows employers to introduce young workers to a particular career, from childcare to manufacturing. According to Awato, the Manchester-based state contractor that provides the platform for the program, there are currently 38 students participating, 236 employers with registered accounts and 394 opportunities on the Awato platform.
The program may be one way to help alleviate NH’s workforce crunch. “The workforce shortage is the number one issue for BIA members,” says Michael Skelton, president of the Business & Industry Association, NH’s statewide chamber of commerce. “We don’t have enough workers for the open positions and that’s a long-term threat to the New Hampshire economy’s vibrancy.”
Skelton says solving the worker shortage will require many efforts, and the Work! initiative provides immediate help. He adds that 16 BIA member businesses are certified to take part in the program.
Skelton says a series of roundtable discussions the BIA held with businesses across the state 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 support is critical to make internships financially viable for teens and employers, he says.
Employers interested in signing up for the program can visit https://bit.ly/WorkAsLearning. Anyone with questions about the program can email Nicole Levesque at Nicole.M.Levesque@doe.nh.gov.