Seacoast School of Technology opens opportunities

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 By Lara Bricker
Posted Apr 7, 2018 at 4:50 PM

The article below was published by Seacoastonline.com on April 7, 2018
and can be viewed on the Seacoast Online website by clicking here.


Click to view photo and original story on SeacoastOnline website.EXETER -- As principal of Seacoast School of Technology, Margaret Callahan knows local businesses are eager to hire students from the school. And she’s been working hard to spread the word.

Callahan has been organizing regular industry tours, during which she invites guidance counselors, school administrators, staff and local school board members, to board a bus and visit nearby businesses that have relationships with the school.

Guests on the tours hear firsthand from those businesses about their desire to hire students, during school and after graduation. Many will train students on the job, then hire them permanently, with a number offering tuition reimbursement, health insurance, vacation time and other perks such as on-site gym memberships.

The Seacoast School of Technology, or SST, has more than 700 students from six school districts and 19 towns. Students can enroll in 12 different programs such as automotive technology, biomedical science and technology, digital media arts and culinary arts, with some offering college credit and valuable industry certifications.

“They get here and they’re finally doing what they’re interested in and they’re in a class with kids who are exactly like them,” Callahan said. “Whether they’re the engineering kid or the culinary student who loves to cook. It’s like they’re among their own people.”

Tours have included local businesses such as Lindt and Sprungli, Highliner Foods, Palmer and Sicard, McFarland Ford, the Exeter Inn, and Riverwoods.

“We just see so many students go to college, don’t know what they’re going for, come out of college still unsure and have debt,” Callahan said. “So many of these local industries right in town will hire people full time, with incredible benefits, and pay for college.”

While high school students may be more inclined to get a lower paying job at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, Callahan says they may be missing the opportunity to find a potential career.

Guests on the March 30 tour visited Riverwoods in Exeter, a continuing care community where jobs include everything from dining room servers, to nursing, to grounds and maintenance to marketing, according to Gina Dickenson, director of human resources at Riverwoods.

“We’re very eager to hire high school students,” Dickenson said.

Many high school students start as servers in the dining room and later move on to full-time positions in health care, nutrition, nursing or even maintenance. Riverwoods offers tuition reimbursement and likes to promote from within.

Jim Collins, director of dining services at Riverwoods, said it currently has 75 high school students employed in dining, mostly as servers. Not only do student workers learn the nuances of serving food, but also maturity as they help residents at difference levels of independence.

“We are so fortunate to have these kids join us,” Collins said. “They’re so compassionate.”

Patrick Velardi, a Newmarket Junior-Senior High School graduate who attended SST for culinary arts, has worked his way up at Riverwoods from part-time dishwasher to an employee in the specialized health care kitchens, while attending college part time. Velardi said the exposure to different foods and experiences at Riverwoods has been invaluable, giving an example of his job that day, preparing a fish from the Pacific called moonfish that he’d never heard of previously.

Kevin Breen, a maintenance supervisor at Riverwoods, is another former SST student, who started on the landscaping team at the community and moved up to his current supervisory role.

With a shortage of young people entering the trades, Riverwoods has opted to create its own in-house maintenance and grounds crew, Director of Facilities Jay Rego said. Riverwoods has taken the unique approach of sending employees to further training in HVAC and plumbing.

“When are you ever not going to need plumbing or electrical? You need these things to exist,” Rego said, adding those trained in those trades can start at $20 to $25 per hour. Valerie Ho, a 2016 graduate of Exeter High School, started at Riverwoods when she was in high school. She was exposed to working with residents who had different dietary needs and levels of assistance and became a license nursing assistant with support from her employer.

“I really liked that getting to interact with the residents,” Ho said. “I think that’s what really pushed me to become an LNA. I want to see how much I can keep going on that path.”

Callahan said it’s important for young people to realize there isn’t just one route from high school to college. She cited statistics that only 20 to 30 percent of jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher. “These kids could have a really great career, be able to have a home, live right here in our community and they don’t have to go to a four-year college,” she said. “There’s dignity in all work and that’s the message.”

Callahan pointed to New Hampshire becoming one of the oldest states in the country in terms of demographics. “We’ve got to keep our young people in the state. When kids leave for college, they don’t come back,” she said. “We’ve got some really great businesses in our state and they can’t find people.”

Every year, Callahan works with a handful of students interested in working in production at Lindt. She helps them with their resumes, practices interviews, coaches them on professional appearances, and then boards a bus with them to take them to the company for interviews. While she stresses they have to start in an entry level position, the company offers opportunity for advancement.

After the interviews, Lindt goes to SST to make offers to students they feel would be a good fit. “I can see the investment these local employers put into one hire,” Callahan said.

One graduate of the pre-engineering program has been at Lindt for two years, been promoted and is receiving tuition reimbursement. Lindt works around his college class schedule when it assigns his hours. “He’s going to be an engineer and the work he’s doing at Lindt is leading him in that direction,” she said.

There is also a high demand for students trained in the automotive technologies program, she said, with more than 1,000 unfilled jobs in New Hampshire’s automobile industry. An earlier industry tour went to McFarland Ford, where guests heard about job opportunities in IT, finance, automotive technology and sales. At the Exeter Inn, executive chef Ben Chesley, a SST culinary graduate, talked about his career path and how two other SST graduates work with him in the kitchen. Palmer and Sicard, an engineering firm, gave the group an overview of a large project it is working on at the Rockingham County Complex.

Callahan hopes to interest more school staff in attending the tours and said feedback has been positive, with people expressing surprise at the opportunities they didn’t realize were available to students.

Donna Couture, extended learning coordinator at Winnacunnet High School, works with students who may not necessarily attend SST but would be interested in opportunities at Riverwoods.

“This is something that’s never been on my radar,” Couture said. “Leaving here, I already have a list of students in my head that I want to connect with.”

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