April 27, 2023

Students from Spaulding High School preparing to enter the workforce and seasoned employees from Laars Heating Systems Co. completed a novel new WorkReadyNH course. Both constituencies learned skills related to career success, while developing peer-to-peer generational friendships. Dawn Hamdi, WorkReadyNH director at Great Bay, hopes the class becomes a model. “This has been a real success for both groups, and we want to keep it rolling. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Hamdi.

Offered through the Community College System of New Hampshire, WorkReadyNH is a tuition-free professional-development program designed to build skills that help employees succeed in the workforce and adapt to changes. Those skills include effective communication, team building, problem solving, and decision making. The program is tailored for those who are entering the workforce, as well as people who are employed and interested in improving their skills to become more effective and valuable to their employers.

Among other things, they learn to write and refine their resumes and how to interview for a job or promotion. They also learn essential workplace skills such as how to succeed while being a supportive teammate.

Historically, the two largest age-groups of participants are 51 to 60 and 18 to 30. Hamdi said this is the first time a community college has offered a WorkReadyNH course with both groups at the same time. During the recently completed session at Great Bay’s Rochester campus, seven graduating seniors from Spaulding took classes with five full-time employees from Laars, a Rochester-based company that designs, builds, and installs residential and commercial heating and water systems.

The idea for the class came about when Hamdi attended a job fair and had a booth next to a group from Laars. They talked about mutual needs, and the class evolved from those conversations. Laars and Spaulding High School have a long-standing partnership, making it a natural fit.

The participants gathered for three hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon from late January through early April. “After the high-school students left school, they walked down the street to our campus, and the Laars folks came over from their facility,” Hamdi said. “They learned from each other, and they had fun getting to know each other.”

The high-school students shared their skills and knowledge related to technology, while the Laars employees shared their workforce experiences and helped prepare their new young peers for the transition from school to work.

Jason Hartford, a 17-year-old senior from Spaulding, took the class on the advice of a high-school counselor, who suggested it would help him think about “what I want to do with myself.” The course has helped him realize his interest in cooking could lead to a career. He now intends to enter the hospitality industry after he graduates in June and work his way up to become a chef. “Cooking is something I have always enjoyed doing, and I have been doing it for years,” he said. “I figure I can make a career of it. Why not?”

Through his conversations with the workers from Laars, he understands that he will have to work hard for his successes, distinguish himself from his co-workers, and take advantage of opportunities when they come up.

“They talked a lot about their experiences, about the job process and what it’s like go to work every day,” he said. “I was worried about talking to these guys at first. It was nerve-wracking, but they were laid back and nice. They understood way more than I was expecting – about life, work, and the whole nine yards.”

Hartford loved the class because it helped him envision his future and face it with confidence. “I would recommend this class for those who are unsure about what they want to do or need some experience with writing a resume or getting ready for a job,” he said.

According to Hamdi, the Laars employees found the WorkReady program equally valuable. “I spoke with a production supervisor”, Hamdi said, “who shared that he noticed that he is actively listening to members of his team instead of jumping in to resolve issues for them.  In doing so, his team members appear to be more motivated find a solution.”

James Persely, 33, supervises two assembly lines at Laars, where he has worked for eight years. He said the WorkReadyNH program also helped him improve his communications skills, which will make him a better manager, and his self-confidence.

He benefitted from portions of the class that addressed conflict resolution, team building, and active listening. He also liked working with the younger students, and agreed with Hartford that it was a bit awkward at first.

“You put a bunch of old guys together with high-school kids, I think everybody hesitates at first. But as the program went on, everybody opened up. It’s like we had been working together for years.”

He, too, recommends the program. “I can definitely see this being a continuous thing, and I am sure it will be based on the feedback that I and others will give. It’s been a really good program, and I highly recommend it.”