National study shows shortage of skilled workers in Maine by 2018

Posted June 20, 2010, at 2:52 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will not have the skilled workers needed for the jobs available in 2018, when economists predict the nation will be over the recession and the economy will be expanding, according to a national study.

“This study by Georgetown University tracks what we have been looking at here in Maine,” said John Dorrer, director of the Maine Department of Labor Center for Work Force Research & Information. “This is something we need to act on now, and not wait until people in business can’t find the skilled workers they need.”

He said the Georgetown study looks at the nation, and at the individual states. He said it projects that 63 percent of all jobs nationally will require at least some postsecondary education in 2018. Employers will need 22 million new workers with postsecondary degrees, both four-year and two-year degrees. The report says there will be a deficit of 300,000 college graduates every year between now and 2018.

“America needs more workers with college degrees, certificates and industry certifications,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in a statement. “If we don’t address this need now, millions of jobs could go offshore.”

Dorrer agrees and said the Maine specific numbers in the Georgetown study are close to the numbers he has been developing at the state level. He said substantial gains in employment will not occur until 2011 and it will likely take until 2015 for job creation to catch up to where it would have been before the recession losses.

“Maine, like the rest of America, will need more college educated workers than it will have,” he said. “It’s a problem that needs to be addressed now, because it takes time to solve.”

The study indicates 59 percent of all jobs in Maine by 2018 will require education beyond high school, a little below the national average of 63 percent. The growth in jobs for the college educated will be dramatically higher than the jobs for someone only with a high school diploma. In 2018, the study projects Maine will need 136,000 workers with a two-year degree and 128,000 with a four-year degree.

“We have more of a challenge in front of us,” Dorrer said. “With Maine being the oldest state in the nation and with slow population growth, we are going to have to figure out how to replace … the most skilled labor force we have ever had on the field.”

He said that while other states have a growing population, including significant in-migration, Maine does not. He said that as more Mainers retire the skilled work force is reduced and this adds to the challenge of meeting the need for improved skills.

Dorrer said the study also shows the need for workers without a degree to improve their skills through industry-led certification programs. He said blue-collar jobs like equipment repair and installation will increasingly demand that workers prove their competency through a certification process.

“Employers are going to demand proof of skills, proof of competency,” he said.

The Georgetown study concludes that postsecondary education and training will determine access to the middle class. Those with only a high school diploma or less will fall out of the middle class.

The study also indicates pay is not only dependent on a four-year degree or an advanced degree. It said 27 percent of people with certificates and 31 percent of people with two-year degrees now earn more than the average income of a four-year degree.

One projection by the Georgetown researchers highlights the need for more workers with post-secondary training at some level. In 2008 there were 36,800 jobs in Maine for high school dropouts. That number of jobs is expected to grow by just 200 in 2018.

There were jobs for 240,000 high school graduates in 2008, and that is expected to grow by 2,000 in 2018. But, the number of jobs for workers with some postsecondary degree is expected to grow by 15,000 to 396,000 jobs in 2018.

Dorrer said he has met with education and university officials to discuss what the data show for the future, and the need to align high school, college and university programs with expected jobs.

“I keep talking about this everywhere I can,” he said. “Our employers won’t have the workers they need in 2018 if we don’t act today.”

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