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Kate Howell is the workforce partnerships director at Educate Maine. Michael McKernan is the government and community relations director at The Jackson Laboratory.

As we look forward to the new year, and a new Legislature, there is much to celebrate, but there are challenges ahead that our state leaders, and those of us in the private and nonprofit sectors, must work to address.

Recently, the nonpartisan Maine Economic Growth Council issued its annual Measures of Growth report, which examines 31 economic indicators that show where Maine stands relative to other states and the U.S. as a whole. The 2022 report shows that entrepreneurship, wages, safety and water quality are strong in the state and received “gold star” ratings. Among the report’s list of “red flags,” where action is urgently needed, is workforce participation.  

This is where we, Educate Maine and The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), are presenting one solution. We have created a new partnership designed to help young workers, ages 16-24, build the skills and experiences they need to launch a rewarding career.

To achieve its 10-year strategic goals, Maine needs to attract 75,000 more workers into the state’s talent pool, including residents and new Mainers. An increasing retiree population and near-flat population growth, among other factors, are major obstacles to building a workforce that will support a robust and innovative Maine economy — one in which current employers remain and grow and new employers relocate from other states.

Educate Maine and JAX are excited about our new partnership, designed to add workers to high-wage, in-demand jobs such as HVAC technician, electrician and building automation technician. We’re doing this with the support of the Maine Department of Labor’s Maine Apprenticeship Program, which looks to increase youth workforce participation through expanding apprenticeship opportunities. In the program, apprentices gain over 2,000 hours of on-the-job experience and apply those hours to earn an industry-recognized credential of value, such as a journeyman electrician license.

With more than 1.1 million square feet of laboratory, office, and accessory space under roof on campuses in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth, and a nonprofit mission that includes training and education, JAX is an ideal environment for facilities-related apprenticeships.

Under the Educate Maine/JAX partnership, JAX apprentices will develop technical and interpersonal work skills, earn wages while learning, build powerful connections and conclude their apprenticeships with a credential of value. As an intermediary sponsor of apprenticeships, Educate Maine will help recruit, onboard and certify the work of the apprentices while also supporting them, ensuring access for young people entering the workforce to needed services and assistance. Educate Maine is also establishing pre-apprenticeship programs in career-technical education (CTE) schools to help students prepare for apprenticeship opportunities and to connect students with employers.

The Educate Maine/JAX partnership is only one piece of a more comprehensive program by Educate Maine to increase pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships in construction, trades, broadband and logistics in rural communities across Hancock, Waldo, and Penobscot counties. Collectively, these apprenticeship programs move Maine closer to its goal that 60 percent of adults aged 25-64 hold a degree or nondegree credential of value by 2025.

We are happy to be part of the solution to advance Maine’s ambitious economic development plans, and open to share our learning with other organizations looking for new strategies to fill critical roles.