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May 5, 2017

Workforce bill takes aim at skills gap in Maine

A bill by state Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, would expand and strengthen the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program that helps low-income, underemployed and unemployed workers acquire new skills needed to obtain good-paying jobs in growing industries.

“For years, there has been a recurring chorus among business owners, economists, and experts in the field: our state is facing a skills gap,” Vitelli said in a news release from the Senate Democratic Office. “People in Maine are independent and hardworking, but find that their skills don’t match the demand for job openings in our state. This proposal builds on a successful program that helps Mainers get good jobs, and helps small businesses find workers with the skills they need to succeed.”

The bill — LD 1467, “An Act to Expand Competitive Skills Scholarships and Strengthen Maine's Workforce Development Programs” — received a public hearing before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. 

A recent series about Maine’s workforce woes, published by the Bangor Daily News, concluded that efforts to ramp up job training are key to improving the state’s economy. According to many of Maine’s top economists, the state will be faced with a shortage of more than 100,000 workers in two decades if significant action isn’t taken to change course.

Support voiced at public hearing

John Dorrer, former director of the Center for Workforce Research and Information for the Maine Department of Labor, spoke in favor of the bill at the public hearing.

“At a time of very low unemployment and tight labor markets, Maine employers are frustrated in attracting the workers and the skill sets they need,” said Dorrer. “These labor market dynamics will only accelerate in the years ahead. The inability to hire the workforce needed to grow and replace the Maine employment base will have serious, long-term consequences.”

The bill also received the support of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, State Director of the Maine Community College System Jim McGowan, Gilda Nardone of New Ventures Maine and Carla Dickstein, senior vice president of Coastal Enterprises, Inc.

CSSP recipient Helen Roy spoke about how the program improved her life. After her employer cut her position, she was accepted into the CSSP, allowing her to pursue a new career in paralegal studies.

“The Competitive Skills Scholarship Program helped me achieve my ultimate goal of a good-paying job, getting me away from being working poor,” she said. “The CSSP helped me obtain my bachelor degree. It helped me turn my life around to where I wanted it to be.”

LD 1467 faces further action in the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee and votes in the House and Senate.

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