The Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce recently co-hosted an event with Husson University at the request of Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage, to hear about the initiative to integrate veterans back into the workplace.
Col. David Sutherland, special assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for warrior and family support, presented a powerful message on the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families. The colonel appealed to local businesses to engage and assist with his proposed project.
The event was well-attended by business leaders and resulted in positive feedback. The Chamber leadership is already planning on how to move this initiative forward. This is an area that the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce is eager to work on together with the administration to accomplish this mission.
However, we don’t agree with everything coming out of Augusta. For instance, the plan to reorganize the work force training system currently in place in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock counties seems counterproductive to the results we are seeing on the ground with positive outcomes.
The plan presented at the January Maine State Workforce Investment Board meeting does not make sense to us. We are very pleased with the increase in job placement and overall wages for our job seekers. Further, more businesses have received one-on-one assistance than ever before. This is due to the new economic and work force development model implemented by the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board and Eastern Maine Development Corporation.
Over the past 18 months, our Tri-County Workforce Investment Board programs have served more than 980 unemployed, low-income adults, youth and dislocated workers in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock counties with training and help finding jobs. The success rate continues to climb.
From July 2010 through December 2011, 409 adult and dislocated workers completed our Workforce Investment Act program, with 309 of them entering directly into a job with an average starting wage of $12.43 per hour. In addition, during this same period, 67 participants from our WIA youth programs also entered into good jobs — in health care, construction and installation, information technology, manufacturing, social and educational services, hospitality, retail sales, business services, transportation and mechanical industries.
Almost 400 people who heretofore could not find work successfully landed jobs with organizations that needed their new talents.
Nonetheless, Gov. LePage is proposing a complete make-over of the current delivery systems for all WIA programs throughout the state, even though this board is doing exactly what the governor says must be done — making smart investments in the skills of workers that match the needs of local employers and supporting businesses that need assistance to grow the jobs of the future.
While we agree that there is a growing need to better prepare individuals with the technical and other skills needed by businesses throughout the state, we also know that here in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock counties we are already doing an admirable, effective job of investing public job training resources that serve workers and connect them to employers who need them.
This has not come about by accident. In July 2009, the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board and the county commissioners took decisive action on their own to restructure and reposition the work force development services in our three counties. We placed the operation of the WIA program with the Eastern Maine Development Corporation.
Having served the region since 1967, EMDC has strong connections with the region’s business community as well as its role in region-wide planning and community investment. It already worked with job seekers and businesses having a common purpose — the economic growth of our region.
To most people this made perfect sense. However, it is not the way job-training programs have typically been delivered in Maine. In fact, only here, in this Tri-County region of Maine, are the WIA programs operated directly by the regional economic development organization.
We understand the governor’s frustration but strongly disagree with his new plan. More needs to be done to assist workers in our state to gain the skills they need to get a job and help businesses grow. However, indicators show that we are on course, improving job prospects for more people and growing a greater talent pool for businesses in our region of Maine.
We should be emulated, not eliminated. Hundreds of new job holders agree.
Dan Tremble is chairman of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and the vice chairman of the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board.