The slow-growing and aging nature of Maine’s workforce is well known and the statistics no longer surprising.

Between 2000 and 2012, among Maine’s labor force of about 700,000, the number of workers 45 and older grew by 94,000 while the number younger than 45 shrank by 59,000, according to the Maine Department of Labor. The population’s participation rate in the labor force declined during that time — from 69 percent to 64.9 percent — largely a combination of a slow economy and more workers transitioning into retirement. And in 2011, some 46 percent of Maine’s private-sector workers were 45 and older (in the government sector, the figure was 62 percent).

The trends in Maine are a more extreme version of aging workforce trends nationwide.

The prospect that Maine’s workforce could shrink by 20,000 by the end of the decade if current trends continue inspired a call to action last year for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation.

In a report, the groups called for the addition of 65,000 to the ranks of Maine workers by 2020 through a combination of in-migration from other states, immigration from abroad and greater employment among populations already in Maine — those with disabilities, seniors, veterans and disengaged young people.

Growing Maine’s workforce is critical to realizing the state’s hopes for economic growth. But when it comes to workforce, hopes of economic growth don’t come down solely to a numbers game. Not only does the state’s workforce need to be large enough to support growing businesses, it needs to be sufficiently skilled and adaptable.

That’s the focus of the next report from the state chamber and the Maine Development Foundation. The latest publication in the groups’ “Making Maine Work” series focuses on preparing Maine’s workforce for the future.

The report doesn’t carry recommendations as buzz-worthy as the addition of 65,000 workers. Rather, it’s a call to expand and step up several efforts already underway in Maine. It calls for more collaboration among schools, universities and businesses to introduce young students to potential careers early on and inform them of the educational paths they’ll need to follow. It calls for a stepped-up effort to enroll some of the 200,000 Maine adults with some college education but no degree in degree programs so they can improve their career prospects. It calls on Maine’s community colleges and universities to recognize some work experiences for credit toward degrees. And it calls on the same entities to smooth out their sometimes complicated credit transfer processes.

There’s no easy solution to this critical challenge. But there’s a test case for some of these initiatives this holiday season as 500 workers previously employed at the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport decide on their next steps after the mill’s closure.

The University of Maine at Augusta has reached out to some of the mill’s laid-off workers, offering them the chance to complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree using federal retraining funds. UMA is preparing to offer them credit for work experience and associate’s degree coursework. The bachelor’s degree could prepare some to fill openings at employers such as The Jackson Laboratory.

Others laid off by Verso are taking steps on their own to put their skills to use in other jobs. Ten former Verso workers have taken jobs at the Bath Iron Works shipyard, highlighting a real trend in Maine: the loss of jobs in rural areas while the state’s metropolitan areas experience much of the growth.

What it takes for each Maine worker to become gainfully employed will be different. But education and retraining will likely be only part of the answer for many. Relocation to areas where jobs are available will inevitably be part of the equation.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...