Maine students, educators, and employers have much to look forward to as we approach the start of the school year. This is the third school year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — an experience that has reinforced the need to strengthen key infrastructures in Maine, including in education and Maine’s workforce.
Several important, recently-created education and workforce training opportunities hold great promise for Maine people and employers. Combined, their impact has the potential to significantly boost Maine’s workforce — and the success and well-being of Maine people and the state — in many of the targeted ways that state policymakers and the education and business communities have been championing for some time.
First, it is important to outline key guideposts that are helping direct Maine’s workforce development efforts. Educate Maine is proud to be a founding member of MaineSpark, a coalition of education and business leaders working to achieve a common goal: making sure that, by 2025, 60% of Mainers will hold credentials of value to meet the demands of the jobs in our economy. Achieving that goal will help position Maine and its families for success.
Another guidepost is a collaboration of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Development Foundation (MDF), and Educate Maine: the Making Maine Work: Critical Investments for the Maine Economy series of reports. Our newest report outlines economic priorities and policy recommendations for the governor and state lawmakers aimed at encouraging investment in the state and growing its economy. Like previous reports, workforce size and skill level are top priorities.
Also critical to guiding workforce development is Maine’s 2020-2029 Economic Development Strategy, which has been invaluable, particularly as our state continues recovering from the pandemic.
The state and the business and education communities have collaborated a great deal over the decades. Even as far back as the early 1990s under then-Gov. John McKernan’s leadership, better connecting Maine employers with educators was a priority. This work has built a strong foundation that is helping direct where workforce development investments are most needed. These efforts also are achieving successes, including that in the last five years, the percentage of Mainers holding a degree or credential has grown nine points, nearing MaineSpark’s 60% goal for 2025.
Today, we clearly see the benefits of investments in the state’s entire education pipeline and workforce development. Our university system is at the forefront of R&D to strengthen multiple economic sectors shown with the University of Maine’s recent R1 designation. The announcement of two years of free community college for 2020-2023 Maine high school graduates is a huge boon to students and their futures. Community college enrollment is spiking (applications are up 11%), including in expanded worker training programs, helping to connecting employers with skilled workers now while also looking ahead to future workforce needs. Some of Maine’s private colleges are also increasing institutional aid programs and expanding student support services to help recruit more students
Together, we can help Mainers take full advantage of even more programs to further boost education and skills credentialing, such as the Maine State Grant Program that offers post-secondary grants for undergraduate students of all ages including adult learners, and federal Pell Grants, of which nearly $11 million is being “left on the table in Maine.” We also can strengthen our focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE) and the pre-apprenticeships CTE programs offer, while supporting employers in transitioning those to formal apprenticeships.
Maine is making solid progress in growing and strengthening our workforce, and in creating pathways for learners to today’s and tomorrow’s jobs and careers. The pandemic created unique circumstances that Maine has strategically used to expand education and workforce training opportunities so that we can accomplish even more
Strengthening our state, people, communities, and economy depends on greater access to education and workforce training opportunities for every Mainer. In an economy that is continuously innovating and changing, this work is ever-evolving, requiring continued investments that keep us current and forward-thinking.
At Educate Maine, we have a positive outlook for Maine’s future. Based on the significant work our state is doing to prioritize learning for all students at all stages, that optimism is well-founded. Our commitment to helping all Mainers get the education they need to succeed keeps growing stronger.”
Editors note: This article was written by Jason Judd and published in the Central Maine Newspapers on August 30. We thought it would be of interest to you. Jason Judd is executive director of Educate Maine and member of ReadyNation.First,