For the fourth year in a row, New Hampshire was ranked the strongest state in the nation based on more than a dozen measures of the economy, public safety, and quality of life.

One of the factors that helped New Hampshire top the list is our unemployment rate, which is one of the lowest in the country at 2.6 percent. But a low unemployment rate can also present challenges.

The number one issue I heard as governor, and now as a senator, from innovative businesses across our state is the need for more highly-skilled workers, even at entry-level jobs.

In today’s economy, roughly 80 percent of jobs in the United States require some type of postsecondary education or training. As the economy changes rapidly, individuals may not have the skills and supports they need to enter — and remain — in the workforce. In a country where everyone who works hard should have the opportunity to succeed, we need to make sure that people are equipped with the skills and supports they need to thrive in our changing economy.

That’s why I am introducing the Gateway to Careers Act to help expand economic opportunity for all of our people by helping strengthen our workforce so that our innovative businesses have the workers they need to continue to grow. This act would support career pathway strategies, which combine work, education, and support services, to help individuals earn industry-recognized credentials, and get a leg up on their futures.

The bill would provide grants to support partnerships like those between community colleges and workforce development organizations or business associations. These partnerships would help individuals who are unemployed or underemployed get the job training they need to enter the workforce or move into higher-paying jobs.

In addition to ensuring that people have the skills they need for jobs in the 21st century innovation economy, these partnerships would also help remove barriers — such as a lack of childcare or transportation — that prevent people from completing a degree or credential program, and succeeding in the workforce.

The Gateway to Careers Act helps remove these barriers by connecting people to the services they need, including housing, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, assistance in obtaining health insurance coverage, career counseling, child care, transportation, or guidance in accessing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other available benefits.

There are already many innovative partnerships like this across New Hampshire, and the Gateway to Careers Act would help support and build on these efforts.

One successful partnership we have in New Hampshire is between Granite State Manufacturing, an innovative Manchester business, and Manchester Community College. They are working together to develop a welding apprenticeship program to help give students the skills they need to enter a trade critical in our manufacturing economy. MCC’s welding program is a career pathways model that allows students to complete a shorter-term credential or pursue an associate degree in Welding Technology, so that they are equipped to meet the needs of innovative businesses like Granite State Manufacturing.

MCC also works to address the barriers that prevent people from entering or remaining in the workforce by providing additional services, including peer mentoring, career counseling, and a support program for single parents called Project STRIDE. These programs are an integral part of many students’ success.

Partnerships like the one between MCC and business leaders embody what I love most about New Hampshire, our all-hands-on-deck spirit. We need to continue working to support our people and businesses by bringing together stakeholders from the public and private sectors to help ensure that all of our people have the tools that they need to share in the success of our state and our country, while continuing to move our economy forward.

In order to maintain our status as the strongest state in the union for years to come, we need a forward-looking approach to ensuring that our people are equipped to succeed in our changing economy. The Gateway to Careers Act would be an important step in doing just that.

— U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, lives in Newfields.

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