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September 28, 2017

Coalition unveils four strategies to tackle Maine's workforce challenges

Courtesy / Maine Workforce & Education Coalition
Courtesy / Maine Workforce & Education Coalition
From left, Nate Wildes of Live and Work in Maine, Ed Cervone of Educate Maine, Kate Leveille of the Maine College Access Network, and Dana Connors of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce are all involved in the MaineSpark initiative to address and resolve Maine's workforce challenges.

The newly formed Maine Workforce & Education Coalition is on a mission to ensure that 60% of the state's workforce achieves a post-secondary degree or professional credential by 2025, compared to 42% today.

It unveiled an initiative Thursday called MaineSpark following a year of discussions about how to best address and resolve Maine's workforce challenges.

"For years we've talked about the pending workforce shortage," Ed Cervone, director of Educate Maine, told Mainebiz on Wednesday. "It's no longer pending. It is a problem today and it is getting worse. The sense of urgency is real, we can't accept failure."

He said the 60% target is in line with what other New England states are already doing, and that today's 42% figure breaks down into 40% with a college degree and 2% with a credential such as a skilled trade.

The coalition brings together 31 organizations from education, business, philanthropy, nonprofit and government, led by a core group that consists of Educate Maine, the Maine Development Foundation, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Finance Authority of Maine, the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System. By banding together, coalition members can make a stronger impact, Cervone said.

The initiative was announced ahead of an all-day conference in Bangor entitled "Attract Build Retain: Talent for Maine," hosted by the coalition, the Maine Philanthropy Center, and the Maine Development Center.

"We're not necessarily looking to reinvent the wheel," Cervone said. "What we would like to do in order to be successful is to provide the structure and other resources to sustain and collective effort like this over time."

They settled on the 60% target after studying jobs data and projections for the next decade.

"The data shows that with current job growth and with trajectories and trends, 60% of the workforce will need something in addition to a high school degree," such as a skilled trade credential, an undergraduate or graduate degree or a business certificate, Cervone said.

"The one definer is that it's something that you start and complete, some kind of training and learning that allows you to get a job in demand in a good career," he added.

Four tracks

MaineSpark aims to reach its 2025 target through four strategic tracks:

  • Strong foundations, targeting kids in early developmental years through sixth grade;
  • Future success, to prepare youth in middle school and beyond for college, trainings and career options;
  • Adult promise, to increase adult learning opportunities; and
  • New opportunities, to support graduates of Maine colleges and of the programs who would like to stay in Maine and build their careers here.

Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, the nation's largest private foundation with a focus on increasing Americans' success in higher education, is supporting MaineSpark with a $750,000 grant for the Adult Promise track to send Maine adults back to college to finish their degrees over the next three years.

"We're excited about the opportunities to accelerate progress in Maine and help it build the talent that it needs to be successful in the 21st Century," said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation who is also a Bates College graduate and board member. But he also acknowledged that "change is hard, and so we approach our process of change with humility," learning along the way what works and what doesn't.

James H. Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, agreed that the coalition has a lot of hard work to do, well beyond 2025. "This is going to be a multi-year process, and the trick here is that it's got to have the sustained attention of everybody, not just educational institutions. We have to stay focused on this for years," he said.

Page also said it was important to ensure that first-rate educational programs are accessible as well as affordable, such as the new online adult-degree program launched at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, www.umpi.edu, in August. The On with Life program is offered at a flat rate of $2,000 per semester including books and fees, less than half the cost of standard, full-time tuition.

What's next?

In coming months, members of the Maine Workforce & Education Coalition will determine specific metrics for each track. Cervone said the "biggest piece of the puzzle" will be the 200,000-plus adults with some college but no degree.

"They are an obvious customer here in terms of let's get these folks their degrees so they can have better jobs," he said.

He added that the group would assess its progress on a regular and transparent basis, and that any organizations interested in joining the coalition are welcome. "This is an opt-in effort."

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