NEWPORT — As part of Newport’s broader effort to meet long-term employer demands for workers, the town is investigating the feasibility to support local child care services during “off shift” or overnight hours.
The study, which is currently underway, will determine whether Newport could partner with the private sector to provide child care services for parents to work “off shift” hours, said Cody Morrison, Newport economic development coordinator. Off shift typically refers to the work hours between 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. that fall outside most child care centers’ operating time.
“The idea is that if someone is going into an off shift — or overnight shift — at Ruger, Hypertherm or Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the employee would have a child care option,” Morrison explained.
The analysis is part of Morrison’s plan to look proactively at arguably the region’s greatest economic hurdle in the coming future: its fast-aging population.
“I think our demographics will be the new crisis in the next five to ten years,” Morrison stated.
The data greatly supports Morrison’s concern. New Hampshire, with a median citizen age of 43.6 years old, has the second oldest population in the country, surpassed only by Maine with a median citizen age of 44.6 years old. Vermont ranks third, with a median age of 42.6 years old.
The median age in Newport specifically is 45 years old, according to Morrison.
For a region that still depends heavily on manufacturing jobs, including Ruger in Newport and Whelen in Charlestown, economic developers like Morrison worry about keeping these companies in town as the core of their workforce enter into retirement.
“These manufacturers didn’t come here for the cold weather but [for] the skills of our workforce,” he said.
In addition to the child care study, Newport is awaiting for the final approval from the governor’s Executive Council to fund a public transportation study of a commuter bus route between Newport and Lebanon. Additionally, Morrison has collaborated with the Newport School District to design a school to work program, which requires every student who is not on a four-year college path to either participate in study at the Sugar River Valley Career Technical Center or a work internship outside of school in a field of interest.
“The intent is that when every student leaves Newport Middle-High School, they are ready for a career, no matter what they are doing 10 to 20 years down the road,” Morrison said.
The child care study was funded with $17,000 in combined money from two separate endowments: one grant of $12,000 from the Community Development Finance Authority and a second grant of $5,000 from the Capital Regional Development Corporation, a nonprofit entity based in Concord.
Morrison said he expects the research to conclude in the spring, at which time a public hearing will be scheduled for members of the community and town selectboard to hear a presentation communicating its findings.
Amanda Brosseau, director of recruiting quality at TPI Staffing Services, who has recruiting offices in Newport as well as Claremont, said that many of TPI’s job seekers factor child care availability into their scheduling preferences, though TPI doesn’t track the numbers to know how off shift child care might improve workforce availability.
TPI works in a one-to-one capacity with each job seeker to find matches between each candidate’s skill set and availability and company’s position needs, Brosseau explained. Candidates who seek off shift hours usually have someone to cover their child care needs, such as a spouse or their parents. The availability of child care often determines what shifts the candidate seeks at the onset of an employment search.
Brosseau also suggested employees may need to factor more than child care availability into choosing off shift or overnight hours.
“[For example], will they be sleeping during the day, will child care during that time be an issue?” she said.
According to Morrison, off shift child care is a relatively new concept and he doesn’t know of any in operation in the state.
“We’re looking into it as something to help our area businesses and attract more businesses and employees to our community,” he said.