Credit: Lynne Sladky | AP

The Maine Department of Labor’s latest workforce forecast reflects a changing job market in which health care and food service workers will be in high demand in the coming years, while people in office administration and production may have a tough time finding work.

And the job fields that are growing at a healthy clip aren’t enough to offset the number of jobs lost in older industries or slower growing job areas.

That’s according to a report by the Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information looking at job projections for 10 years from 2016 to 2026. In fact, the net job growth over that period is only 94 jobs total, or about nine per year.

Jobs with the highest net job growth over that period are registered nurses, food preparers and servers, and personal caregivers. The big winners are health care practitioners and technical occupations with an 8.9 percent rise in available jobs until 2028, and health care support operations with 9.2 percent.

Secretaries, administrative assistants and office clerks will be among those having a tough time finding work as their jobs disappear, down about 5.2 percent from the number of jobs now in existence.

The report also found that 22 percent of employees in their prime work years, ages 45-54, will be lost from Maine’s workforce.

So far, it is not clear if those people are leaving the state, starting their own companies, working for cash or simply dropping out of the workforce, said Peter del Greco, president and CEO of Maine & Co., a business and economic development organization based in Portland.

Most other age groups in the study declined.

Notably, the percentage of working people age 65 and older is expected to increase 55 percent, partly, experts say, to supplement their income and partly to have an activity after retirement. Del Greco sees the older workers, whom he describes as seasoned, stable and experienced, as an asset for Maine.

But attracting and keeping Mainers at the start of and in the middle of their careers is key to building and growing the economy.

“For a resident of a state, a decrease in the jobs [unemployment] report is cause to be wary,” said Chris Steele, chief operating officer and president North America of consulting company Investment Consulting Associates of Boston.

He said Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all are facing the same issues of unemployment and an aging population. He said Vermont’s campaign to recruit people to the state by paying them to relocate is a good idea.

Investment Consulting Associates has consulted with Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development about the return on investment for economic development and R&D programs such as the Pine Tree Development Zones. It also advises companies on whether they will be able to find local talent or if they can recruit talent to the area.

“Attracting talent to a state is critical to the overall economic success of the state,” Steele said.

He said Maine needs to continue economic development programs that will stimulate employment growth.

“Employers will have to put in a lot more work to get staff,” he said.

That’s no different than other states or even countries, del Greco said. His company helps attract companies to locate in Maine, including Wayfair, a Boston-based online furniture store with operations in Brunswick and Bangor. Wayfair opened the two Maine call centers in 2016 with plans to hire 950 employees.

“There’s a global warfare for talent now,” del Greco said. “It’s not just in Maine.”

Some news reports say employers are adding benefits such as signing bonuses, extra vacation and shorter work weeks. A recent Wall Street Journal article said some employers are trying a new strategy: no experience necessary.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiled data for the past 10 years, showed Maine isn’t the only New England state with a sharp decline in its unemployment rate from 2008 to June 2018. Northern New England states were at or close to their lowest unemployment rates in June 2018, with Maine at 2.9 percent, down from a 10-year high of 8.3 percent in June 2009. New Hampshire was at 2.7 percent and Vermont at 2.8 percent in June 2018.

The federal government is due to release updated unemployment rates Aug. 17.

Many economists consider a 3 percent unemployment rate to be reason for concern about economic growth. The U.S. Federal Reserve expects a stable economy to have 4-5 percent unemployment.

The U.S. Labor Department released last week showed the nation’s unemployment rate is near a five-decade low at 3.9 percent.

Del Greco cautioned that reports predicting the future don’t necessarily mean that what they say will happen.

“The report doesn’t explain if manufacturing growth is stagnant because new technology is making it more productive or because it [manufacturing] is going away,” he said. “The economy is changing. New technology will increase new ways of productivity, and the job numbers have to be tempered with the new technology.”

Other unknowns include policy and political changes, a potential recession, and tariffs, he said. He expects politicians to make the most of the unemployment numbers and to propose solutions in the upcoming election season.

But the bottom line sits with businesses figuring out how to find and keep people.

“Smart companies that will expand and get ahead will figure out the longer term issues like how to better utilize a more seasoned workforce or those still sitting on the sidelines after the recession,” he said.

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