Even though his players tease him for it, the coach of the University of Maine football team often likes to stress that it’s “a major Division I college program” during interviews and in team meetings.
That’s because the coach, Nick Charlton, wants to build pride and camaraderie among his players, many of whom were recruited to play for the Black Bears despite growing up in warmer southern states and having difficulty with the cold climate.
“You’ve got to sell what your product is,” Charlton said Thursday evening. “To be honest, Maine is a little more isolated than some other places, so we’re going to be with each other all the time. That’s a big selling point. It’s the relationships. It’s the people. It sounds corny, but it’s true.”
Those were among the lessons that emerged during an informal panel discussion on the subject of recruitment which was held at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Bangor. Beside Charlton were three other people from different backgrounds who also have faced the challenges of recruiting people to fill Maine jobs from inside and outside the state.
Watch the full Bangor Daily Brews conversation here:
One of them also came from a sports background: Amy Vachon, the head coach of the University of Maine’s women’s basketball team. The others were Nettie Kilby, who works for Bangor Area Staffing Solutions, and Thomas Ellis, the chief human resources officer at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.
Together, they offered a variety of perspectives on how to sell the state to people from outside it, such as by emphasizing the light traffic, low crime rates and general laid-backness of the people who live here.
They also offered more strategic suggestions for workplaces and the policymakers who are considering how to help them.
For example, Kilby has noticed that many employers are “stuck in the way of thinking they can wait until they find the perfect candidate,” she said. In fact, employers who are struggling to fill openings should consider applicants who may not have all the necessary skills but show a willingness and ability to be trained.
At the same time, Kilby said that she meets many young job candidates who “aren’t taught in school how to market themselves” and apply for jobs with “horrible” resumes.
The Thursday evening discussion was the second in a series of events organized by the Bangor Daily News which are meant to promote informal discussion about four topics critical to Maine’s future: workforce development, referendum reform, the challenges of rural living and climate change.
The need for Maine employers to recruit for open jobs will be great in the coming years as people leave the workforce because of their age, their relocation out of the state or other factors.
The state is projected to see a net increase of 94 jobs from 2016 to 2026, with the most growth in health care, caregiving and food service, according to projections from the state Department of Labor. But almost a quarter of Mainers in the prime working ages of 45-54 — about 22 percent — are expected to leave the workforce during that time.
“We’ve got record low unemployment,” Ellis said. “The old days of employer being in the driver seat, that’s long gone. If we don’t think about ways to reach out to people and ways to market the organization, were not going to be successful. We’ve started to put strategies in place to address that, but with 10,000 baby boomers leaving the market every day, businesses need to think differently.”
Charlton, Vachon and Ellis all said they and their colleagues make a point of speaking about their respective entities with pride, knowing that attitude is important to recruitment.
Ellis spoke of the need for his own workplace, the Jackson Laboratory — which employs about 1,400 people in Bar Harbor — to work with local technical centers to recruit new interns and workers.
He mentioned slow internet speeds as one of the factors that can make it hard to recruit to Maine. Both he and Vachon also said that the U.S. policies can make it difficult for international workers to secure work visas here.
Kilby said that policymakers should consider changing programs that provide food and financial assistance to people with low incomes, but then cut people off from those programs when they reach a certain income threshold. That sudden loss of benefits can dissuade people from seeking jobs, according to Kilby.
“I’d like to see a gradual drop off,” she said. “As their salary [changes], they see a drop in benefits. But now they’re cutoff and they’re stuck. There’s no incentive for them to get off that.”
On a larger level, Ellis said that student loan debt can make it hard for recent college graduates to want to stay in Maine when they could probably find better paying jobs elsewhere.
“If there was a simple solution, I guess we’d all have different jobs,” he said.