To the editor:
Those of us involved with the oversight of Local Workforce Investment Boards are scratching our heads at Gov. Paul LePage's new initiative for the state's job training programs ("Building a better work force," June 11). As a board member for one of the LWIBs targeted for elimination, I am greatly concerned with the administration's proposal.
The administration says one of its aims in revamping current job training programs is to allow local chambers of commerce to be more involved. However, in the six coastal counties of southern and midcoast Maine, active partnerships with the chambers already exist. Several local chambers work directly with work-force development professionals to shape the training offered in this region. In fact, Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. in Brunswick (which administers the federal job-training funds for our region) received the nonprofit business of the year award from the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber of Commerce last October. Dan Bookham, executive director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber, said, "Through access to work-force development tools for our members, CCWI helped the chamber directly connect job creators with job seekers in an efficient and effective manner."
The administration says we should let businesses "drive the bus." Sounds great, but a majority of our LWIB leadership is currently comprised of businesses, and our staff work one-on-one with local employers right now to provide on-the-job training and qualified referrals for current openings. Our on-the-job-training program has been retooled based on employer requests for needed services. And that is just one example of how our work-force board responds to employers.
The governor says his initiative is aimed at making sure people get training that leads to work. Our efforts with businesses and job seekers, whether unemployed or under-employed, results in 75%-80% of our job training recipients obtaining good jobs at good wages. And let's not forget one important part of this equation: We rely on chambers and state economic development agencies to catalyze job creation. Perhaps the governor should be more focused on creating jobs so the people we train have somewhere to go.
The administration says it would like to invest more in training activities. We agree. When the unemployment rate is approximately 7.5%, our unemployed workers need as much training investment as we can bring in. That's why in the past five years we obtained an additional $18 million to supplement federal job training funds. Will the chambers be able to do this? We think not. Saving an annual $250,000 in administrative costs, as the governor proposes, by obliterating our region's capacity to bring in additional millions in training dollars to Maine is simply penny-wise and pound-foolish.
So, what is Gov. LePage really trying to do? We think there is a confusion of ends vs. means. We ALL want more training funds, but we do not think eliminating our local control is a viable solution. Think how community leaders would react if the Maine Department of Education said, "Give up your school districts and let the state run everything." When the previous administration offered legislation to consolidate school districts, many Maine communities said, "No thanks." Now, this administration is proposing to run local job training at the state level. And most of the local businesses do not see the state as the most responsive nor locally attuned provider of services.
This is what we do see.
Our LWIB has solid and consistent performance over the past 12 years, receiving incentive funds for two of those years in which our performance has been exceptional.
Because of local board policy implemented by our business leadership, which includes representatives from Bath Iron Works, L.L.Bean, Southern Maine Medical Center, Marden's, Pratt & Whitney, Cianbro, Atlantic Pest Solutions, Arundel Machine Tool Co., GAC Chemical Corp., and more, CCWI has at least 35% of all work-force funding dedicated directly to training, and the coastal counties region has among the highest investment in training of any LWIB in Maine and one of the highest in the nation. As Sen. Olympia Snowe recently remarked: "Coastal Counties could not be a more indispensible ally in the endeavor to put unemployed Mainers back on the job. To say that you are a beacon of hope for citizens throughout our state is certainly no exaggeration."
Instead of dismantling our board, we would ask the governor to tell the whole Pennsylvania story, which is referenced in your article. We agree that Pennsylvania has had great success with its industry partnerships. However, unlike Maine, it invested significant state resources ($27 million annually) in a partnership effort with LWIBs, while Gov. LePage has proposed no state funding.
Pennsylvania used its local business involvement to generate even more business involvement -- through its existing LWIB delivery system. We would ask the governor to consider talking with the very businesses that have invested their time and energies in making the existing work-force structure a success before he insists on reinventing the wheel.