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Updated: October 1, 2019

Business, education leaders say Maine must address looming skills gap

Photos of education and business leaders in Maine. Courtesy / ReadyNation Business and education leaders on Tuesday called for investments in career and technical education to fight Maine's looming skills gap. From left, Brian Langley, executive director of the Bridge Academy Maine program; Deanna Sherman, CEO of Dead River Co. and Educate Maine board chair; and Jason Judd, executive director of Educate Maine.

Maine education and business leaders on Tuesday called for beefing up career and technical education (CTE) and high-quality secondary and post-secondary programs to fight a looming skills gap in the state's workforce.

The press event at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center also unveiled new research predicting Maine will need an additional 158,000 workers by 2025 to fill job openings. That's one of the many challenges highlighted in a brief by ReadyNation, a nonprofit seeking to build a strong workforce.

The group is made up of more than 2,000 business leaders nationwide, including 100 in Maine, who advocate for public policies designed to strengthen the workforce by helping children succeed in school, work and life, according to Kim Gore, the state director for Maine.

The brief released Tuesday, "Who Will Be the New Business Leaders in Maine?," details the challenges the state faces including a shrinking working-age population and growing need for skilled workers.

To tackle those problems, the group recommends investing in career and technical centers and in high-quality secondary and post-secondary options "to help ensure that our students are building the skills they need today to lead of businesses tomorrow."

Speakers at the late-morning event included Deanna Sherman, CEO of Dead River Co., board chair at Educate Maine, and a 2016 Mainebiz Woman to Watch; Jason Judd, Educate Maine's executive director; and Brian Langley, executive director of the Bridge Academy Maine program, which allows high school students enrolled in CTE programs to also take college-level courses.

"From a business perspective, American companies and Maine companies need a prolific feeder system for skilled workers to fill both existing jobs and the jobs of tomorrow," Sherman said in an emailed news release. "Maintaining and growing that feeder system is absolutely critical to ensuring that our nation's economy remains competitive." 

Judd noted that programs like the Bridge Academy give students the skills and experience they'll need, in turning giving Maine the future workforce it needs.

"Maine cannot continue making economic progress without forceful actions on workforce actions on workforce development," he said. "This is the challenge of our generation."

Langley shared additional details of Bridge Academy's success, and how it's helping the MaineSpark goal of ensuring that 60% of the state's workforce achieves a post-secondary degree or professional credential by 2025, compared to 42% in 2017 when that initiative was launched.

"Overcoming Maine's skills gap and ensuring we have the workforce we need in the future begins with greater access and affordability of quality post-secondary credentials," he added.

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