April 24, 2018
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Skilled worker shortage still looms

By Peter Caron and Scott Voisine, Special to the BDN

Given all that has, and is being said, in Augusta and in the media about work force development, economic development, education and training, and even welfare reform in Maine, it seems prudent to reflect on a number of pressing realities and their impact on the future of our state’s work force that were highlighted in a study conducted by Georgetown University — the results of which were featured in the June 20, 2010 issue of the Bangor Daily News.

The national study projected a shortage of skilled workers in the United States and Maine by 2018.

John Dorrer, then the director of the Maine Department of Labor Center for Workforce Research and Information, asserted: “Maine, like the rest of America, will need more college educated workers than it will have. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed now, because it takes time to solve. Our employers won’t have the workers they need in 2018, if we don’t act today.”

This work force development challenge presents itself at a time when an estimated 65 percent of the projected American work force in 2020 is already beyond the reach of our public school systems.

Despite this reality, the conversation in Maine, the oldest state in the nation, continues to focus on retooling secondary school education as a means of meeting our state’s work force development needs. While improving secondary schools is crucial, we must also underscore the need to increase post-secondary achievement in our state among adults in need of literacy, numeracy, life, work, post-secondary and career skills.

Toward this end, the Maine Department of Education’s Office of Adult Education appointed a task force in 2009 to spearhead development of a career pathways work force development initiative called Maine ACCESS (Adult Career and College Education Service System). The Maine Career Pathways Task Force created an initial framework document and hosted an institute last March with the specific aim of strengthening and bringing together a number of existing assets in our state that are widely recognized as priority components in successful adult work force development initiatives.

Those components include a strong, responsive adult education system; college involvement; local, regional and state political support and leadership; employer and community-based partner engagement; and comprehensive support services.

Although developing an effective career pathways approach to work force development in our state will be challenging, now is the time for state leaders to back the development of this approach. The varied entities that must be fully engaged in moving the Maine ACCESS work force development project forward continue to operate, to a significant extent, within their respective service silos.

When services are siloed, the result is a “leaky pipeline” for preparing adults to earn occupational certifications or degrees in high-need, high-growth, high-wage career fields and to achieve financial tipping points leading to enhanced levels of self or family economic sufficiency. Maine deserves better.

We have begun to address this challenge in the St. John Valley through the formation of a local Career Pathways Task Group which already has seen its early efforts bear fruit through the development of Holistic, Integrated, Relevant Employment Education, or HIRE — a partnership between seven Aroostook and Washington County Adult Education programs and the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

Through this partnership, adult learners in a “digital cohort” will receive education and training in the law enforcement occupational sector employing the UMFK online Certificate in Criminal Justice and the availability of literacy-based instruction and other critical supports provided by local adult education programs.

The HIRE Education partnership is a precise representation of the responsive, strategic work force education and training efficiencies for which our governor has been calling. Initiatives like these can proliferate throughout Maine with the tangible and immediate backing and support of state leaders.

Peter Caron is director of adult and community education for SAD 27 headquartered in Fort Kent. Scott Voisine is dean of community education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Both are members of the Maine Career Pathways Task Force and the St. John Valley Career Pathways Initiative Task Group which endorses this Op-Ed.

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