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April 11, 2023

How to remove barriers to workforce success  

Connecting individuals with education, training and job opportunities is a critical part of helping families gain economic stability and building a brighter future for Maine children.

That is why the John T. Gorman Foundation has invested in a range of programs that grow and strengthen Maine’s workforce in our efforts to build the resilience of Maine children and their families.

John T. Gorman Foundation
Nicole Witherbee is president and CEO of the Portland-based John T. Gorman Foundation

These initiatives seek to break down barriers that stand between job seekers and employers with critical staffing needs. We have learned a lot from these innovative approaches and believe several have important lessons that other business leaders can learn from as well. 

Meet people where they are. Maine has scores of job-training programs. But for many job seekers, it can be hard to access them without the right kind of assistance. Lewiston-Auburn’s Strengthen LA — a coalition of the LA Metro Chamber and businesses, nonprofits and municipal partners — provides this assistance, connecting job seekers with existing training programs they need to access jobs in health care, construction and education. At the heart of Strengthen LA is an employment opportunity coach who helps individuals access training, education and other resources they need to forge their own career paths and the best way forward. The Strengthen LA coach works with them to address the unique barriers they face along the way, whether that’s transportation, child care or coming up with funds to buy scrubs for a Certified Nursing Assistant program. More than 60 people are currently working with Strengthen LA, and many others have already found jobs, or enrolled in education and training through the program.

Address child care. Without affordable, high-quality childcare, it’s nearly impossible for parents to get stable employment, and for their children to get the social and developmental opportunities they need to thrive. But in Maine, some 22% of families live in a child care “desert,” where there are at least three children under the age of 5 for every available child care slot. In Lewiston-Auburn, the Child Care Business Lab — a free training program launched by Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI) — is restoring child care options while creating jobs and helping residents launch viable business enterprises of their own. With workshops, online learning and mentoring, the program provides all the tools local participants need to start a business, meet regulatory requirements, and run a day care. In its first year, the program led to the launch of six new licensed child care businesses, child care slots for 124 kids, and the creation of 24 new jobs. It also gave dozens of parents an opportunity to pursue full- and part-time jobs because of their new-found access to child care. 

Build in opportunities to earn and learn. For many New Mainers, English language acquisition is the No. 1 barrier to accessing job opportunities and finding economic stability. Eliminating that barrier is a priority of Mercy Hospital’s +MPower program, launched as part of Northern Light Mercy’s efforts to increase opportunities for people of color. The program provides the resources people need to move up the career and wage ladder. It includes intensive English language acquisition courses, as well as apprenticeships that give employees training opportunities to become medical assistants, certified nursing assistants, and work in administrative areas of the hospital. Through partnerships with Portland Adult Education and the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, participants can take classes five days a week and work with multilingual mentors to advance their fluency. The curriculum includes topics such as medical terminology, electronic health records and Microsoft Office, so participants can gain the technical skills they need to advance in the hospital while learning English. Importantly, the hospital provides these learning opportunities during workdays, and pays employees for their learning time, so they can acquire language skills while earning an income. 

Barriers for potential employees are barriers for employers as well. As you look for ways to unlock Maine’s workforce potential, we hope you find these examples of obstacle-removing initiatives useful.


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