Maine seeking a new approach to jobs training

5:53 PM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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AUBURN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine's unemployment rate has remained virtually flat since February of 2012.  In March, it hovered at 7.1%, which means roughly 50,000 Mainers are looking for work.  But that is not to say there are no jobs available, the problem is many of those people do not have the skills that employers are looking for.

To help bridge that skills gap, Maine is looking south to Pennsylvania, and a program initiated there that brought employers with similar employment needs together with the state to form partnerships that provided jobs training that was in demand.

"In every workforce area I have ever been in, there is a local workforce market and there are some skills that are under-available and there are some skills over-available," stated Chip Roche, president of NEW FAB in Auburn and one of the people who helped develop Pennsylvania's program designed to help bridge the skills gap there.

"We had a major shortage of welders," explained Roche.  He says the need was so acute, that they were bringing in temporary workers from hundreds of miles away.  Employers in that part of the state were also poaching employees from one another, but none of those approaches offered a long term solution to their fill their needs.

"We have the same problem in Maine today that we had in Pennsylvania ten years ago, and it is the same problem they have in Pennsylvania today," said Roche.  "The thing that they have that we don't have is an infrastructure in place, who knows how and is able to implement the industry partner model of workforce development."

"We don't just want to send people to training, we want to train people to jobs," stated Garret Oswald, director of the State Workforce Investment Board.  "As opposed to just training people for the sake of training, we really need to make sure that we are having a conversation with the employers, and that the kinds of training that we are sending people to are the kinds of training that will allow them to get that job."

Oswald says by aggregating demand and having employers work together to meet their needs, they can implement training programs that address their employment needs and create a pool of workers with the skills they are looking for. 

He says it does not have to be a specialized skill set, like welding, but could be initiated by any industry that has a need and open positions to fill.

"It is not easy or everybody would be doing it," admitted Oswald.

Maine's legislature is on the verge of taking the first step toward creating an industry partnership training program as part of a myriad of changes contained in LD 90, An Act to Strengthen Maine's Workforce and Economic Future.  That bill recently received unanimous support from the committee working on it, and will be debated in the House and Senate next week.

"Part of what we are trying to do here is not just put out the fire today for individual businesses, but we want to create a fire prevention strategy going forward," explained Oswald.

He says the investment made in this coordinated effort will help everyone in Maine, by reducing the number of people seeking unemployment assistance and providing training for workers that increases their employment opportunities.

"It helps individual Mainers, it helps Maine's business community, and it certainly helps the state of Maine as a whole," he added.

"You will have a system to react to the local skills gaps that employers will identify in the future," said Roche.  He says starting this type of program is difficult, because you need employers to buy in to it, and funding is needed for the training and coordination efforts, but the pay off is worth it.

"Is all this going to solve our issues and have a smooth running apparatus in 6 months? No," said Roche.  "But are we heading in the right direction? Yes.  If we stay on this path, do I think that we will get there? Absolutely."



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