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June 21, 2017

Maine State Chamber, Educate Maine unveil plan to close state's 'skills gap'

File photo / Tim Greenway
File photo / Tim Greenway
Deanna Sherman, president and CEO of Dead River Co., who has worked her way up through the ranks over three decades with the company, joined Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors today in unveiling a strategy to close the state's skills gap and increase enrollment in career and technical programs.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Educate Maine unveiled today an ambitious plan to close the skills gap for Maine employers by doubling in three years the number of students enrolled in hands-on, technical and career-focused educational programs.

In a late-morning event at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, the two organizations outlined several strategies for achieving the Maine Department of Education's goal of doubling Maine's career and technical education enrollments by 2020.

Strategies include:

  • Improving public perception of Maine's network of 27 career and technical high schools by promoting CTE education through a public-private partnership. Current CTE programs across the state include technology, automotive, health care, construction and public service.
  • Exposing more parents and young children to CTEs
  • Offering a one-day course on the available career and technical programs — which include technology, automotive, health care, construction and public service — at CTE schools around the state
  • Adding a CTE experience to the required training for guidance counselors.
  • Connecting more education foundations, businesses both large and small
  • and business groups to CTE schools and programs
  • Dramatically expanding CTE pre-apprenticeship offerings
  • Strengthening existing partnerships between Maine colleges and CTE schools
  • Eliminating logistical, policy and regulatory barriers
  • Creating CTE experiences for elementary and middle school students that will heighten their awareness of career opportunities in the technical and skilled trades.

Doubling the CTE enrollments

Only 14% of Maine high school students — 8,505 — are enrolled in Maine's 27 CTE high schools this year.

In the 23 programs offered in Maine's CTE schools students choose their own career pathway and learn skills that make education relevant and rigorous. The Maine Department of Education reports that participating students have a higher high school graduation rate and that the programs benefit students from low-income families who otherwise might face an opportunity gap.

"Doubling the number of students with career and technical education experience by 2020 will give Maine students the skills they need for the good-paying jobs and careers they want, and at the same time, will help close the problematic 'skills gap' so many Maine businesses are facing," Deanna Sherman, who chairs the Educate Maine board of directors and is president and CEO of Dead River Company, said in a news release announcing the initiative. "These strategies and actions will help Maine businesses find the workers we need — who are ready for the job on Day 1 — so we can succeed and grow."

The policy brief on strategies to increase participation in CTE in Maine received support from the John T. Gorman and Nellie Mae Education Foundations.

Margaret Harvey, state director of CTE, said the state's career and technical programs have improved dramatically in the last 10 years and now use mandated industry standards and assessments that help students to enter the workforce with sufficient training and skills.

Maine State Chamber President Dana Connors said the chamber's interest is based on the realization that "an educated and skilled workforce is essential to the prosperity and success of Maine people, Maine businesses, and Maine's ability to compete regionally, nationally and globally.

"We are committed to the ambitious goals of growing participation in career and technical education to help close both the 'skills gap' and the 'credential gap' to meet the workforce demands of Maine's economy today and in the future," he said.

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