CONTRIBUTORS

Industry, education partnerships enable new economic future

Posted Feb. 16, 2012, at 8:39 p.m.

Recent articles have highlighted the fact that for the first time health care jobs exceed

manufacturing jobs on the national level and in Maine.

Manufacturing jobs are fewer in part because manufacturers have invested in high-tech equipment, which requires fewer people to manufacture product. An aging population will require increasing health care provider positions, further increasing the job availability gaps between the sectors.

The manufacturing jobs of the future, although there will be fewer because of increased productivity and technological advances, will require higher skilled workers. The workers who can fill those manufacturing positions will need additional training and will earn higher than average wages. There also will be a flow of workers that come out of manufacturing into other industries. One of those industries will be health care.

How can workers transition from one industry to another, in this case manufacturing to health care, and acquire the skills to be successful?

To answer that, Maine needs a strategy that provides a road map for a cost-effective, collaborative and data-driven system that will address education and training needs for Maine industry. The Manufacturers Association of Maine has provided a report to Gov. LePage that provides guidelines for policy development and resources; Maine’s Industry Partnership/ Sector Strategy aims to have all industry sectors network as one industry voice.

Traditionally, Maine has focused on workers without jobs, which represented approximately 7 percent of the population. A majority of state and federal funds were used to support this population of displaced workers through unemployment services. The focus shifted away from the remaining 93 percent of the incumbent work force.

Although the unemployed should receive relief at some level, industry partnerships will focus on the incumbent work force priorities, which include pipeline and career ladder development and transition into new careers. This will be important to retain skilled workers, increase the available labor pool and address skill gaps that arise due to emerging technologies and business opportunities. This will provide Maine companies the ability to stay ahead of the curve and collaborate with other industry sectors in the use of best practices to address industry’s most fundamental skill development needs.

Collaboration between the Maine industry partnerships, work force development and education systems are endless but must be viewed as a long-term relationship. The Maine Industry Partnership/Sector Strategy provides the structure to identify and act quickly on common interests across a large and varied set of stakeholders. This strategy is built on the very successful model employed in Pennsylvania.

Currently in Maine, there are two industry sectors that are moving parallel to establish and implement the Maine Industry Partnership model. The health care and manufacturing sectors are using this innovative approach to foster critical partnerships. This model can be replicated in all industries and can be applied in a strategic and deliberate manner to support the customer, which is Maine businesses and industry and Maine’s workers.

As Maine continues to forge ahead to strengthen its economy, businesses will need skilled and educated workers to fill required jobs. Industry partnerships are critical to the competitiveness and productivity of Maine’s work force because they account for the needs of employers and educational providers and the needs of the workers.

There are two key themes regarding the quantity and quality of workers interested in manufacturing employment in Maine. The first relates to the insufficient pipeline of skilled manufacturing technicians to replace incumbent workers that will soon retire. The second is that manufacturing workers are often not prepared to adapt to changes in the manufacturing environment.

Industry partnerships will not only focus on incumbent workers and their desire to develop in their own careers, but on those displaced and unemployed workers that are so important to support during tough economic times and for businesses that want to remain competitive and survive. Many companies today are finding it hard to fill open positions, not because of the availability of workers, but because of the availability of skilled workers for the positions they have.

The manufacturing worker of the 21st century requires high skill in engineering, machining, welding and assembly, to name a few. Because of innovation and production advances that lead to increased productivity, fewer of these jobs will be available but still will be needed to drive the economic engine of America and Maine.

But the workers that need to transition into other sectors need the assistance which will enable them and the economy to be successful. As an example, more and more of these workers will be available to fill health care provider jobs. This may not be an easy transition for many of these workers, but Maine Industry Partnerships can enable a system where the needs of a changing work force can be met in a collaborative approach between work force development, education and industry.

It is time to “invent our economic future” and enable a changing work force.

Ronald N. Dupuis Jr. is vice-chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Maine.

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