AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic leaders in the Maine Legislature are appointing a special panel to develop plans for cultivating a skilled workforce and helping small businesses in one of their first moves as the majority party in the House and Senate.

Democrats said Wednesday they plan to assemble a Special Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future when the new legislative session gets under way in the coming weeks.

The special committee is akin to a panel Republicans assembled two years ago to streamline government regulation. That committee produced a regulatory overhaul bill that passed the House and Senate and was signed into law last year by Gov. Paul LePage.

Democrats say they want to put a special emphasis on cultivating a skilled workforce and helping small businesses to jumpstart the state’s economy.

“I think it’s time for us to have a laser focus on the skills gap,” said Senate President Justin Alfond. “I don’t think we’ve really focused on filling the skills gap. Businesses are asking for it. Our communities are asking for it. Students are waiting in line [for training programs.]”

The skills gap refers to a shortage of workers with the skills needed to fill open jobs. A 2011 study commissioned by Southern Maine Community College projected shortages of skilled workers in a number of growing fields in Maine — including information technology and precision manufacturing — through 2018 based on current economic and educational trends.

The committee’s members have yet to be named and Democrats don’t have specific policy proposals in mind yet. They said the committee would consult with researchers, business leaders, economists and others to start developing plans and legislation.

“It’s our responsibility to deliver a short-term blueprint and then a long-term plan for the state,” Alfond said.

Alfond and Sen. Seth Goodall, the Senate Democratic leader, said the committee could take a look at workforce training programs, ways to help small businesses access capital and other areas in putting together policy proposals.

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said the governor is interested in efforts to make structural changes in state government, such as lowering the state’s corporate tax rate, that make Maine more attractive to businesses.

“Is [the committee] going to be a catalyst for making some structural changes that Maine needs to attract businesses, to get us from 50th to the top 10 on the Forbes list?” she said, citing Maine’s placement last week on the bottom of Forbes’ list of best states for business for the third consecutive year. “If this committee is looking to make some structural changes, I think the governor would be on board with that.”

Republicans on Wednesday weren’t ready to embrace the Democrats’ plans for the special committee. Majority Democrats didn’t reach out to Republican lawmakers before they publicized news about the committee, said Rep. Kenneth Fredette of Newport, House Republican leader.

“I’m very disappointed that I’m hearing that the Democrats are establishing and creating committees on issues of significant policy and have failed to have conversations with me or Republican leadership,” he said. “It does not bode well for the future or the work that we need to do together when Democrats seem to be out there on their own already.”

23 replies on “Democrats forming panel to address ‘skills gap’ in Maine workforce”

    1. I often see ads that request an applicant has experience in a certain software, but I can’t find classes for that software! Some items are only used in the business, and are impossible for one to get experience in via classes, etc.. Employers have to learn to take a “leap of faith” and look for hires who are trainable.

      1. I can remember a decade ago, after completing training in a networking software package, seeing an advertisement for a network administrator’s position looking for a person with at least five years experience in a program that had only been out for arround about six months,.
        But this is not new, when I got out of the military I applied for a position in Bangor in my field of training but they wanted someone with experience using a specific model test equipment. I assume the position was written so that only one person would be qualified. I moved on to greener pastures and found a position out of state.
        This is not a new problem here.

    2. Actually, Voc. region ten has long had an interface with local industry and their training programs were tailored to the emerging job market; unfortunately who pays attention to what happens at voc. schools when you have all the liberal arts orientation in the rest of the school system.

      Employers often find that local H.S. graduates can’t pass their entrance examinations, and they have to hire adults who can and can succeed in the training. Even Peter Geiger complained bitterly a few years ago at the large numbers of applicants who fail basic subjects.

  1. Oh boy, a special panel! That will get the job done that wasn’t done by dozens of Demo appointed panels and task forces around the State, won’t it.

    This panel will collect the reports from all the other panels and collate them, and issue their own report, with their names on it and take credit for the work the other panelists did.

    Meanwhile smart Maine kids will flock to the CC courses that offer them the best opportunities in tomorrow’s economy.

  2. Hmmm think LePage wanted this but the Dems complained before. Now they want it and can say it was there idea. Once again what a joke!

    1. Actually LePage and the legislature did not need even one Democratic vote if they had any inclination to do something like this over the past two years.

  3. What LePage doesn’t seem to understand is that he doesn’t have to be on board with anything having to do with committees formed by the Legislature.

  4. A skilled labor force for what? Are they going to sit around and wait for the jobs to come to Maine or move out of State to find them?

    1. Tea Party Paulie is going to get the jobs for Maine. Remember he went from one end of the State to the other in 2010 promising he could bring JOBS, JOBS, JOBS to Maine.

      1. Actually he has…goto his web site and you’ll see how many have come to Maine. For contrast do a followup on all the Comm. Development funds spent by John Richardson and see how many of those jobs still exist, or school systems now having to lay off faculty now that Obama’s stimulus money has run out.

    2. According to Forbes the lack of skilled labor is one of the primary reasons they rated Maine low as business friendly.

  5. LePage cut all training funds for State Employees in his first budget. He stopped all training, blocked promotions for training on your own time and your own dime. NO promotions for any reason.
    He has no intention to develop a workforce when he can just hire them from Florida for temporary jobs working for him. Very temporary jobs now.

    1. Got any research to indicate that training improved the performance or productivity of State Employees?…..esp. those in DHHS who went to seminar’s at Scott Cowger’s conference center.

  6. Think there’s anyway the cummite can ad spelling and propur gramatical usij to the list of skilz most needed by Maine bisnissis? bcuz so meny perspectiv employeez insist that spelling duznt’ cownt or evin nowing how to punkchu ate a sentence correctly like at the level of fifth’s grayd and so hav no ideeya that other poeple laff at us becawz we. think it dont’ matter, at all. who Should i contak?

    1. Yore cents of hewmor is apreeshiated, it iz gud two no evreebodie izunt so seerieos wen it cums two polatishions tawking frum both sydes of ther mouz

    2. You might try Immigration and Customs to find the country which best matches your language ability….unless you’re a refugee from one which has English Lit internment camps.

  7. Rep. Kenneth Fredette, where were you and the Governor when the Governor made the statement over a year ago that there was a skills gap and that over 20,000 skill positions in Maine were going unfilled. There was never anything in the news as to a few basic things that needed to be put out there for those seeking employment to meet the skills requirements. Simple things like exactly which skills were needed, where a job seeker can go to attain the skills, where the jobs are and most importantly what they pay.
    Now you seem upset with the Democrats because they wish to fill in the gaps left by Governor LePage.
    I’m not overly pleased that the Dems waited till they gained a majority before addressing this situation either. But since they are now in power and are willing to tackle this. Either get on board and help or get out of the way.

  8. For 2 full years now with total control of the Governor’s office
    and both houses of the legislature the Republcian leadership had full
    power to make changes without a single Democrat voice,
    They did not lead so it is time to follow or get out of the way.

  9. let’s see, we eliminate industrial arts and home economic classes, so eliminate basic craft skills, architectural skills, computer technology (on a contextual & pragmatic level) then bemoan lack of basic skills. now we need a panel to declare that we decided we didn’t want our kids, therefore our future workforce, to know the things we need them to know.

    funny, I recall writing an article, which got a full page in the BDN, anoint the internet… even trusted promoting it as place we should be (an easy coast software silicone valley) … and was told by everyone … except Baldachi … that I was nuts, it was a fad…now, where are the skills? Will a conference of idiots, called by an idiot, achieve anything?

  10. How about we halt mass immigration for the next decade, limiting the quota to 100,000 or less annually. (The current level is over one million). And, put unemployed Americans first, for once.

    1. Solve the problem. Have any immigrants or their kids that stole land from the American Native population deported.

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