AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced the creation of a new State Workforce Investment Board to create policies around job training and to ensure that dollars set aside for that purpose are used effectively.
The announcement Wednesday comes just two months after the governor learned that less than one-quarter of Maine’s federal job training funds were being spent on job training.
“This is an opportunity to revitalize the State Workforce Investment Board and its mission” the governor said in a statement. “More dollars must find their way directly to Maine people so they can get the training they need to earn a living and build new skills that prepares them not only for a job but future careers.”
During a speech in Bangor in early October, LePage said it was “almost criminal” that only 20 percent of federal job training funds have gone to job training in the last two years. The rest, he said, has been tied up in administrative costs.
The money in question came from the U.S. Workforce Investment Act and was distributed to four work force investment boards located throughout the state. Those boards serve as conduits for work force training that is carried out largely by other agencies. In Bangor, for instance, that agency is Eastern Maine Development Corp.
In 2010, the four boards collectively received about $5.6 million and spent only $840,000 (about 15 percent) on training and support services, according to information provided by the governor’s office. The rest was spent on staff salaries and administrative overhead. In 2009, the state received $5.3 million and spent $1.2 million (about 23 percent) on job training.
Additionally, the success rates for the programs appeared low. Information provided by the governor’s office showed that of the 2,497 program participants in 2010, only 1,102, or 44 percent, were placed in jobs. In 2009, only about 48 percent of participants were placed in jobs.
Once LePage learned of those numbers, he met with representatives of the four boards and told them to come up with ways to improve efficiency. Some board members said the statistics cited by the governor painted only part of the picture.
“We’d love to just plug all the money into training, but in some cases we have leases and obligations that we can’t walk away from,” Jim Baumer, director of business services for the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board, said in October. “It frustrates me that [the governor] is painting us as the bad guys. He’s trying to simplify a pretty complicated operation.”
Still, the board agreed to work on improvements, one of which is the creation of a new board made up of Maine business leaders, state and local officials and representatives from education, organized labor and service providers. Frederick Webber of Standish, a retired officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, was picked by LePage to lead that board.
LePage said Wednesday that he hopes industry partnerships will serve as the cornerstone of his new work force development strategy. That model, he said, engages businesses in identifying skill gaps in the work force, prioritizing training initiatives and developing defined career ladders where workers can build on prior skills and new learning to advance in their jobs.
“When we strategically invest in our work force, everyone wins,” the governor said. “Businesses have the skilled employees they need to innovate and be competitive in a global economy, and workers have better opportunity for not just jobs — but careers that lead to good wages and long term stability.”
The new State Workforce Investment Board will meet in January to begin implementing the plan.