Credit: George Danby / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

Laura Fortman is commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor.

Like workers in states across the nation and in countries around the globe, Maine people are in the midst of a monumental shift in how, when and where they work, a shift accelerated by a global public health crisis. While we don’t know what the future of work will look like yet, we do know that Maine workers will be the foundation of that future. This Labor Day, the Maine Department of Labor is recognizing the contributions of all Maine workers to our state, especially during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout our history, hardworking Maine people have adapted to the challenges of their times to keep our state competitive. For example, our cornerstone industries of fishing, farming and forestry are transforming in new and innovative ways to meet the demands of changing markets worldwide, and our workers are transforming too, seeking out new training, new skills and new knowledge to succeed and to contribute to our state.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for our workforce. At the outset of the pandemic, with consumers wary of travel, with our border to Canada closed and with the virus spreading unchecked in states on our doorstep, sectors across our economy suffered significant hardships. Since then, by implementing proven public health precautions, Maine has maintained among the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths and has achieved among the highest rates of vaccinations in the nation. As a result, our economy is rebounding at a rate better than anticipated.

From January through the end of July this year, Maine gained over 16,000 payroll jobs — more than 40,000 compared with a year ago. Maine’s unemployment rate is steadily declining, and people are returning to work, sometimes in new and different ways. Despite that progress, many employers are still struggling to fill vacant jobs for a variety of reasons and there are still 22,500 fewer jobs than in February 2020 before the virus impacted the labor market.

Maine workers have adapted throughout our history to provide for their families, to contribute to our economy, and to shape the foundation of our state, perhaps no more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mills administration, led by the Maine Department of Labor, is adapting too to make sure every person who wants to work in Maine has the opportunity to do so.

First and foremost, we are making the investments our workforce needs to succeed.

This summer, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law legislation to implement the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, her proposal to use federal funds through the American Rescue Plan to make historic investments in Maine’s workforce. Under the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, the administration will build more affordable housing and expand access to affordable child care to ensure workers can succeed, especially in rural areas of our state. It also invests heavily in skills development and training to ensure that our workforce has the tools needed to grow our economy

We are also working directly with employees and employers to match Maine people with good-paying jobs and to support growing businesses looking to hire. The Department of Labor is encouraging employers to re-evaluate their hiring procedures, benefit packages and hybrid work options to reach and retain more job seekers. The department is also working to modernize our website to make it easier to access services, including specific grants to assist people who have barriers hindering their ability to find work, including people with disabilities, women, immigrants, BIPOC and people affected by the opioid crisis.

And, as commissioner, I personally work closely with our federal partners in the U.S. Department of Labor to expand on-the-job-training and apprenticeship programs and with my fellow state agency heads at the Department of Health and Human Resources, Department of Education and Department of Economic and Community Development to ensure that we have a holistic strategy to address the needs of Maine workers.

The Mills administration is dedicated to building a strong economy where every worker can succeed. The Maine Department of Labor is working directly with employers and employees to make that goal a reality.

This Labor Day let us all reflect on the many contributions of working Maine people to our state and recommit to building a bright future for all workers, no matter what it may look like.