Maine launches $ 60 million workforce effort to reverse tough economic trends

The Maine Community College System will spearhead a four-year, $ 60 million effort to train and educate workers to reverse demographic trends and labor shortages that are holding back the state economy.

A new virtual center, the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce, will be created to lead the initiative, the system said on Tuesday. The project will be funded by $ 35 million from state-administered federal stimulus funds, $ 15.5 million from the Harold Alfond Foundation and the rest from the private sector and other grants.

Maine’s status as the nation’s oldest state in terms of median age has long been one of the biggest challenges facing businesses and policymakers. When Governor Janet Mills unveiled a 10-year economic plan in 2019, she set a goal of increasing the workforce by 75,000, even though projections showed it would contract by 65,000 in 2019. during this period as older workers retire.

The pandemic has disrupted matters even more. Maine lost 22,800 jobs during the pandemic from February 2020 to August 2021, according to the Maine Department of Labor. The hospitality industry alone has lost about half of it. After the state lifted restrictions, many establishments saw their activity return to or even exceed pre-pandemic levels this summer, but labor shortages continue to limit operations.

The all-important food and accommodation industry is unlikely to reach past employment levels given its demographics and continued competition for workers from other sectors, according to HospitalityMaine, an industry group that unveiled its own more focused five-year workforce training plan last month. A Maine Department of Labor survey released last month found that job seekers in various occupations are struggling to re-enter the workforce because their skills don’t match open positions.

The new center will bring together various current workforce training efforts into a single system that will provide short-term training and longer-term diplomas or certifications. It also aims to be a training division for small and medium-sized businesses that do not have their own training departments. It will focus on the skills mismatch, a low rate of post-secondary education in Maine, the aging and shrinking workforce and the need to make education and training more accessible on the job, by online and within communities.

“We are bringing new educational tools to meet the immediate needs of businesses at an accelerated pace,” said David Daigler, president of the Maine Community College System.

Mills said the initiative would help keep Maine competitive and “create a new, more diverse economy that attracts business and allows everyone to make a good living.”

The project, which will run until the end of this year, will focus on Maine Quality Centers, a short-term training arm of the community college system that plans to offer free or discounted short-term training. to more than 13,000 people. The head of the centers, Dan Belyea, will also coordinate the new training efforts.

State money from the stimulus initiative will be focused on training 8,500 people in health, green economy, trades, hospitality, manufacturing, education and computer technology. The quality centers will also work with more than 80 state companies and associations to train people in specific job skills. The initiative includes a $ 1.2 million remote work project to train approximately 700 rural Mainers over the next three years.

The first stage of the project will target internally displaced persons and low-wage earners. The second phase will aim to teach new skills to non-management workers in professions such as medical transcription, customer support, IT support, administrative assistant positions and financial services. The third phase will focus on people taking college continuing education courses. By 2024, about 65% of Maine’s workforce is expected to need a degree to work, up from 44% today.

“Businesses recognize that if they don’t have a skilled workforce, they don’t have a product or service to offer,” said Daigler.

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