Maine Senate President Outlines Plan To Close Skills Gap 

According to the Maine Department of Labor, there are thousands of jobs available in Maine but no qualified workers to fill them.Monday in Augusta, Maine Senate President Justin Alfond introduced a bill in front of the Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future that he hopes will help Maine close the so-called “skills gap”.That committee was put together this session to try and strengthen the skills of Maine workers. “Right now in Maine we have around 4,000 jobs that can’t be filled currently. We have an older population and we have a birth rate and death rate which is going the the wrong way. So we need to address our skills gap immediately in order to ensure our future,” Alfond said.Alfond’s plan addresses the problem by making a series of targeted investments in several key areas. Included in his plan is a $200,000 investment over the next two years in the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program. That investment will be matched by funding from the business community, to further JMG’s role as a resource support organization.Under the proposal, $300,000 per year over the next two years would go to the Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community. According to the plan, that money would help develop statewide capacity to deliver and coordinate a variety of workforce development training and services in all regions of the state. The initiative proposes that Women, Work and Community provide both online andplace-based career planning classes for an additional 300 adults annually.Alfond’s plan also sets up a credit transfer system between the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, allowing students to transfer from a Maine Community College to the University System in Maine with less of a hassle after earning an Associates Degree.The state would also kick in $2.3 million, which would be matched by private funding from the University of Maine, to set up a scholarship program in the University of Maine System to help adults with prior educational credits return to the University of Maine System to complete their baccalaureate degrees. “We need to make sure we’re coordinated,” Alfond said. “We need to make sure we have seamless transitions in all aspects of our education and our government and our private sector.”In addition the proposal asks that $250,000 would be allocated over the next two years to the Maine Quality Centers within the Maine Community College System to enable the Quality Centers to provide additional training to an estimated 450 incumbent workers across the state. The additional appropriation will be matched by an equal amount from the Maine Community College System. The funds will provide training for incumbent workers at existing businesses in the state with fewer than 50 employees. The funds may also be used to provide training for employees at existing businesses with 50 or more employees providing that those participating businesses provide at least 50% of the training costs. “What’s critical is that 95% of our businesses are 100 or less. They don’t have human resource departments or training departments. I see this as a great opportunity for the community colleges to become the training arms for those small businesses,” said John Fitzsimmons, President of the Maine Community College System.In total the plan asks for a little more than $11 million in new investments. Some concerns have been raised that the plan, as currently written, might prove to be too costly and parts of it may be redundant, mimicking plans that Governor LePage has already started putting in place.Those are issues the committee will ultimately sort out.To view the entire plan: