January 18, 2022

Meeting needs of Maine workers

Significant changes in national and international development policies, economic competition, and new technology have radically changed the world in which Maine workers find themselves. The following projections, which were made by leaders in government, business, and labor document the importance of these changes for workers in this state:

Nearly 75 percent of all those who will be working in the year 2000 are already at work. Continuing economic change will make the skills of many current workers obsolete.

Presently, some type of postsecondary education or technical training is required in about half of all jobs. By the mid-1990s, at least 75 percent of all jobs will require training and education beyond high school.

Experts are saying many people will need to be retrained six to 10 times in the course of their working lives.

Over the next two decades, women, minorities, and immigrants will account for the majority of the new entrants into the U.S. labor force. It is essential to provide these groups with the education and training necessary to meet the demand for technical personnel and other highly skilled and well-trained workers.

In April 1990, the Corporation for Enterprise Development published its annual “Development Report Card for the States.” The authors of this study emphasize that the “central requirement” for viable economic growth in today’s intensely competitive economy is a skilled and educated workforce. While Maine received high ranks in economic performance and business vitality indices, it received a poor ranking in the development capacity index.

This is particularly alarming when one considers the fact that this index is the most important measure of the economic and social health of a state. It evaluates: the capacity of human resources available in terms of workforce skill levels and educational quality; the percentage of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs; the financial resources within the state for stimulating economic growth; the state’s physical infrastructure; and the amenities available through cultural, medical, and natural resources. In this important and vital index, Maine receives a dismal unsatisfactory rating of “D” and ranks 37th in the nation.

The state of Maine’s funding and investment in university research and development is even more discouraging. As the authors of the report just cited emphasize:

“The close correlation between world-class university research institutions and commercial spin-off businesses has been lost on no state. Interest in the research agendas of major educational institutions has risen sharply. Budget allotments to public universities have also increased. And new university-government-industry partnerships are being formed. This measure gives us a rough approximation of the scale of research and development spending at universities in each state and, indirectly, the capacity for associated business development.”

Maine ranks nearly at the bottom in this important university research and development per capita index — 49th in the nation.

Through its political leadership, the state of Maine can take a number of constructive actions to establish needed ongoing job training and education programs for Maine workers. These actions include the following:

(1) Providing additional funding to the state’s existing university and vocational technical institute systems, to expand technical and professional certificate as well as associate degree programs for Maine students and working adults who do not pursue a four-year college degree.

(2) Providing incentives for unions, employers, and apprenticeship programs to provide worker training and education on a continuous basis in order to keep up with the challenges posed by a changing economy and technology.

(3) “Providing government support for company-based training (which recognizes) the importance of achieving high-productivity work and a high-wage economy.” (This recommendation was identified by the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a bipartisan panel of government, labor, business, education and civil rights leaders, as a policy practiced by Japan, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Singapore, but not the U.S.)

(4) Allocating additional state funding to improve the literacy and educational levels of Maine’s present and future workforce. Nationally, Maine’s citizenry ranks l9th in high-school graduation levels and 32nd in college attainment. Moreover, this state has an 11-percent adult illiteracy rate.

(5) Obtaining additional federal funding in order to increase Job Corp training programs in Maine.

(6) The funding cut as a result of budget reductions at the University of Maine System needs to be restored to this institution, particularly in research and public service. As already noted, the research and development conducted at a state’s public university plays a vital role in generating needed and constructive spin-off enterprise in the business, labor, industrial, and public sectors. Maine ranks 38th in post high-school educational spending. Obviously, this low level of funding needs to be increased significantly.

With predictions of an impending recession, economic competition will become even more intense. The best way Maine can maintain a viable economy for dealing with this competitive environment is to provide the resources and facilities necessary for enabling its workforce to be well educated and trained. This will be extremely important for helping Maine attract and keep growth-oriented enterprise that provides meaningful employment with adequate compensation for its citizenry.

John R. Hanson is the director of the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine.

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