Jobs go wanting - need is growing for automotive technicians in Lakes Region and beyond

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Nick Frost of Farmington reassembles an automatic transmission in the GM Drivetrains class at Lakes Region Community College. Frost works as a technician at a GMC dealership, and said he has chose his career because he has "always been a car guy. all my life. It's the best option for me right now." (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


LACONIA — The prospect of a shrinking workforce, which has darkened the horizon for employers in the technology, manufacturing and health care sectors, has also cast a shadow on the automotive industry in the state, which could find itself with 900 unfilled positions by 2020, according to a report prepared by the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association and Community college System of New Hampshire.

The report drew from a survey of 151 new and used car and truck dealerships, which represented employed about 6,800 people, or about half the total employment of the industry in 2015. The survey focused on seven occupations — service advisors, service managers, parts staff, sales associates, collision repair technicians, and both entry-level and advanced automotive technicians — which currently account for 4,300 employees. This survey indicated that by 2020 there may be as many 900 vacant positions in these occupations, with entry-level and advanced automotive technicians accounting for nearly a third of the shortfall. The survey indicated that vacancies for technicians were the most difficult and took the longest to fill with nearly nine of ten respondents citing the low number of applicants as the primary reason.

In 2014, the automotive industry employed 817 people in Belknap County, less than the 891 employed in 2005 but more than the 763 employed in 2013, and represents 6 percent of the total employment in the county.

"It's very true that we could use some help," said Scott Ides, general manager of Belknap Subaru in Tilton. "There are always vacant positions in the industry and it's taking longer to fill them than it used to."

Ides was echoed by Andrew Hosmer of AutoServ of Tilton, who said that "there is going to be a labor shortage, which is reflective of New Hampshire's aging demographic. He said that many experienced employees are approaching retirement at a time when school enrollments are declining.

"We've been very fortunate," said Chris Irwin of Irwin Motors of Laconia, "but is there a problem in the industry? Absolutely."

The same auto dealers were equally unanimous about the importance of the automotive programs at the Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School and the Lakes Region Community College in developing the workforce the industry needs.

"We're blessed to have these two programs right in our back yard," Irwin said.

"They are wonderful assets," Ides agreed, "but underutilized.

Hosmer, who served two terms in the New Hampshire Senate, stressed the need for increasing investment in the programs both to expand their capacity to enroll more students and and lower the cost of their education. Noting the lower tuition for for similar programs in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, he said the state should ensure "competitive costs for training."

The Huot Technical Center has offered its automotive program since it opened and Laconia High School is one of 20 high schools with similar programs. David Warrender, director of the center, said enrollment has been steady throughout the years, explaining that teenagers have an affinity with automobiles and there are opportunities for employment in the industry whether new car sales are strong or weak. "It's a healthy program," he said.

Currently, Warrender said, 36 students are enrolled in the first year and 18 in the second, which he described as "pretty typical." With one instructor and an assistant, he said that capacity is limited because close supervision is required to ensure the safety of students working on vehicles in the shop.

"This is a much more challenging curriculum than people assume," Warrender said, explaining that as vehicles have become increasingly sophisticated, the program is much more science based than people think, and we do lose some students early because it is challenging."

Lakes Region Community College is on of four of the seven colleges in the New Hampshire Community College System to offer automotive programs, which altogether awarded 757 degrees and certificates between 2004 and 2015, including 103 at Lakes Region Community College. The college offers both the cooperative Automotive Service Education Program, a 21-month program undertaken in partnership with General Motors and its dealers, and the Associate of Applied Science degree in Automotive Technology. While students may pursue either, those completing the first earn the degree awarded by the second. Toyota Motor Corporation has invested $1 million in a partnership with the college, which this year will begin offering a similar program.

Mike Pakrer, who chairs the department, said that some 50 students are currently enrolled in the programs, but expected the enrollment to reach capacity of 70 with the introduction of the Toyota program. "It's a challenge," he said, explaining that high school enrollments in the region are shrinking and despite rising wages and richer benefits in the industry, interest in automotive engineering is declining.

Like Warrender, he said that as the technology has grown more sophisticated, the programs require a more demanding set of aptitudes and skills. "Today, repairing an automobile may mean reprogramming a computer," said Pakrer.

Peter McNamara, president of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association, said that with average annual incomes of $58,000 and technicians earning more than $75,000, the industry offers very rewarding careers. "We need to get the message out," he said. "There's more capacity in the pipeline. I know there is. These are great jobs. It's a matter of getting more men and women to hear the message."

He questioned the emphasis teachers and parents of high school students place on attending a four-year college and overlooking equally or more rewarding careers in the trades that can be pursued at less cost and in less time.

McNamara said the association and its members work closely with the high schools and community colleges. The association annually contributes $20,000 in scholarships, he said, adding "I wish we could give away more." The association has also worked with the 20 high schools to ensure their technical centers are certified while its members have contributed tools and equipment to their automotive programs. And the association has encouraged the Legislature to provide appropriate funding for the technical centers as well as for job training grants.

Referring to the aging of the state population and decline in high school enrollments, McNamara remarked hat employers, particularly those like auto dealers and manufacturers seeking similar employees with similar aptitudes and skills, "are fishing in a small pond and we've got to have better tackle to catch the fish."

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Garrett Mayo and Axl Errington, both of Hardwick, Vermont, study an automatic transmission in the GM Drivetrains class at Lakes Region Community College. They said that the LRCC program is the nearest General Motors program for them. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

D-Day survivor Bob Giguere's memorabilia on display at Laconia Library


LACONIA — An exhibit of memorabilia from Bob Giguere, 90, who on June 6, 1944, landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy as part of D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in history, is on display at the Laconia Public Library.
Among the items exhibited are the French Legion of Honor, the highest military honor the French government can award to an American, three Purple Hearts as well as the Silver Star. There are also books, magazines and newspaper articles about Giguere, who said that he has kept the collection on his front porch for years and recently decided that he should make an effort to share it with the public.
"It was an emotional experience every time I walked by it. I still remember the guys that were lost that day" said Giguere, who said that he called Randy Brough at the Laconia Library and offered to loan them to the library for the display.
Giguere was only 17 when he invasion took place, making him one of the youngest men who took part in the invasion. He was raised in the oldest of 10 children of Aelard and Ruth Giguere in Lakeport, where he attended the Washington Street School and was in is junior year ar Laconia High School when he quit school to join the Navy in 1943.
"My father had just passed away and my mother had no means of support for her six boys and three girls. This way my mother could get an allotment sent to her," said Giguere.
He was sent to Newport, Rhode Island, and then shipped to Bradford, Virginia, where he was one of 250 men assigned to the 6th U.S. Naval Beach Battalion. Giguere said he 's not sure why he was assigned to the beach battalion, but thinks it may have had something to do with his marksmanship score.
''I was pretty good with a rifle," he recalled. "Before I enlisted because I had done a lot of hunting. But one of my buddies and I kept score for each other on the firing range and inflated our scores a little so that we could qualify for an extra $5 a month in pay."
His unit arrived in Liverpool, England, in the fall of 1943, and he remembers living in tents which were heated with coal as he and others drilled in preparation for the invasion.
He still vividly recalls D-Day.

''It was supposed to be June 5th but was held off for a day because of the weather," he said. "The sea was rough and I was seasick, just like a lot of the other guys on our ship. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. For us, it was like a training exercise. Then the shooting started. There's nothing that can prepare you for that. It was an awful thing we were going into.''
His heroics that day are featured in ''D-Day: A Day That Changed America,'' a history book published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2004 in which he is one of five servicemen who is profiled.
It was cold and dark and the seas were running high when the LCI-85, carrying about 185 soldiers and with a crew of 20 Coast Guardsmen, headed out from Southampton, England as part of the third wave of the invasion, headed for the Easy Red section of Omaha Beach.
When Giguere's ship reached the beach, it grounded too far out for the ramps to be put down and was moving to another section of the beach when, as reported by the LCI-85 captain, "as the ship grounded, a teller mine exploded under the bow, splitting the void tank. The port ramp went down and the troops began going ashore. Shells and machine gun fire began to hit us. About 50 troops got down the port ramp before a shell hit it and blew it off the sponsons and over the side. As the starboard ramp had not gone down and the wounded men were jamming the deck, we backed off the beach again.''
Giguere recalls that there was carnage on the deck and that he was standing near a soldier from New York City named Peterson. ''I heard him groan and turned and asked 'Are you all right, Pete? and he was gone. The shot must have missed me. It could have been me.''
Giguere realized that he would have to get off the ship soon or suffer the same fate and went down the half open starboard ramp. ''I threw away my backpack and jumped into the water with just my rifle. The water was up to my chest,'' he recalls.
Then he felt something like a bee sting on his left shoulder. He put his hand on his shoulder and felt blood but kept moving to shore, where he took shelter behind a large steel beam obstacle, where he dressed his wound. He then ran across the beach, looking for his unit, his rifle jammed with sand. Taking shelter behind a seawall, he helped a pull a wounded man ashore and saw that the beach behind him was becoming smaller as the tide rolled in and was clogged with men lying shoulder to shoulder, who were being ordered by the beach master to move inland and get off the beach, which was being hit by withering German fire.
Giguere recalls that a barbed-wire barrier which kept the American troops pinned on the beach was finally breached by soldiers using a bangalore torpedo (an explosive charge within a long tube), allowing troops to head up a ravine. Responding to a call for a demolition man, Giguere headed toward the ravine and was given two grenades and told to toss them into a concrete bunker up the ravine about 100 yards away, on the other side of an antitank barrier. He crawled through a gap in the wire and moved towards the bunker, pulling the pin on the grenades and threw them into the opening of the gun emplacement. He remained there and caught about six grenades tossed to him by a soldier on the other side of the antitank barrier and pulled the pins and tossed them into the bunker.
''Then I got out of there, because the last one was a smoke grenade that was used so that the destroyers just off the beach would have something to shoot at,'' said Giguere.
He continued to remain with 15 or so soldiers he had teamed up with when he walked past the bunker again, where more grenades were thrown in for good measure, and then along a hedgerow, where a German patrol was spotted. Giguere was given two more hand grenades, and, as the Germans approached, threw them toward the enemy as American riflemen opened fire. Giguere said as many as two dozen German bodies were later seen lying in the field.
The group then moved into a small nearby town, Colleveill-sur-Mer, where a German spotter was surveying the area from a church steeple, which later was destroyed by shells fired from American ships just off the beach. ''We got out of there because we knew it was going to get hit a lot by our ships,'' he said.
Giguere then went back down to the beach to try and locate his unit. He was talking with an officer when a German shell exploded, killing the officer, knocking Giguere out and leaving him with shrapnel wounds, which still set off metal detectors when he passes through them.
When he woke up four days later on June 10, his 18th birthday, he was in the 40th Army Hospital in Southampton, England. Sent back to the United States aboard the Queen Mary in July, Giguere said English Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also on the same ship, headed for a conference in Canada with American President Franklin Roosevelt.
''I had a 30-day leave but when I got back to Laconia, I got an emergency call back and went to Oceanside, California'' said Giguere, who was sent to Pacific Theater, where he took part in the invasion of the Philippines.
At one point, he was behind enemy lines for 14 days, delivering supplies to Navajo code talkers in the mountains.
He then took part in the invasion of Okinawa in April of 1945, where he received his third Purple Heart. One of the first ashore, Giguere was a few days later sent out to round up some of his fellow servicemen after Japanese snipers started to infiltrate the area they were in.
''There was a cemetery near a village there and some of the guys would go up there and smash funeral urns because they thought there would be gold teeth in them. Just as I got there, I got shot in the foot by a sniper,'' Giguere recalls.
He was slated to be in the invasion of Japan, but was spared that experience by the Japanese surrender after two atomic bombs had been dropped on that island nation.
''I guess you could say the A-bomb saved my life. I'm one of the lucky ones who survived those invasions,'' said Giguere.
After the war, Giguere came back to Laconia where he married Rachel Simoneau. He got a worked at Scott and Williams in Lakeport until they closed and he and his wife raised five children.
Following her death a the age of 49, Giguere married his second wife, Claire Nedeau.
As a member of what has widely been called ''The Greatest Generation,'' Giguere said he's never been ready to claim that what he did that day was heroic. ''The real heroes are those guys who didn't come back. And there were plenty of them that I knew.''

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An exhibit of memorabilia of D-Day veteran Bob Giguere is on display at the Laconia Public Library. (Roger Amsden/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Bob Giguere, who landed with American troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day, holds a collection of the medals he was awarded and a photo of him taken shortly after he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. (Roger Amsden/for the Laconia Daily Sun).

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4-year-old found at 3 a.m. in freezing cold, but is OK


SANBORNTON — A wandering boy, who crept from his room at the Steele Hill Resort in the middle of the night last Friday, was spared the ravages of temperatures in the low teens when he was found by an alert security officer outside in an entry way to the building.

Jason Cutillo, vice president of the resort, said the 4-year-old and his parents were guests at the resort. Although the door to the room was locked and chained, well after midnight, the boy, in pajamas and barefoot, flipped the deadbolt and squeezed through the doorway. According to one anonymous report, the boy was recorded by a security camera leaving the building at 1:30 a.m. and was next seen when he was found at 3 a.m.

On finding the boy, the security officer mounted a door-to-door search for his parents and called the Sanbornton Fire Department for emergency assistance. Fire Chief Paul Dexter said the department was called at 3:23 a.m. and firefighters arrived to find the boy unharmed by the cold. "There were no signs of hypothermia," said Dexter, who added that his crew checked the boy over and found no need for medical services.

It remains unclear how long the boy was actually outdoors. Although the security camera apparently captured him stepping outside at 1:30 a.m., he showed no sign of being outdoors for two-and-a-half hours with snow on the ground and temperatures well below freezing.

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