ELLSWORTH, Maine — Maine’s labor commissioner met with representatives of several businesses in Hancock County on Thursday as part of the LePage administration’s plan to make sure the state’s work force training programs are meeting the needs of both employers and job seekers.
LePage recently unveiled a plan to centralize the administration of Maine’s job training program, to require additional performance-based evaluation standards and to work more closely with regional chambers of commerce in order to better tailor programs to local needs.
“I look at [chambers] as the eyes and ears to tell me what is going on in their community,” Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass said during an interview. “They have the feel of the community … where they are growing and where they are not growing.”
Winglass met with leaders of several local chamber groups as well as representatives of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth, Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor and Morris Yacht in Trenton.
Winglass said he spoke with hospital staff about the potential for growing the local health care industry due to Maine’s graying population but also about the challenges of finding trained workers, such as in the field of medical information technology. Chamber members, meanwhile, urged the department to reopen a Career Center in Hancock County.
“We will take that back and take a look at it to see if we can accommodate it,” Winglass said during an interview.
Maine labor officials often talk about a “mismatch” between available jobs and the state’s work force. Winglass said that, in addition to the medical field, employers have told his department about their struggles to find machinists, welders, information technology specialists and other highly skilled workers.
Four regional work force investment boards receive and administer money from the federal government or other sources to help unemployed or underemployed individuals find new jobs.
But according to data released by the LePage administration, less than 20 percent of funding actually went to job training, with the remaining going to administration. For that reason, LePage created a new statewide Workforce Investment Board to administer finances and programs.
Former members of those local work force boards have since accused the administration of releasing inaccurate or misleading information, arguing that federal law only allows those boards to spend 10 percent of their funds on administrative costs. They also said the programs’ job placement rates are consistently higher than LePage claims.
Winglass acknowledged that debate and attributed much of it to differences in how “administrative costs” are defined. But he argued that the state needs to focus on using more of the money to provide training to people on how to do an actual job, not necessarily on how to get a job.
“We need to increase the amount of skills training,” Winglass said. “The resume writing, the job interview skills are important but I believe it is more important to provide the job skills.”