Monday, March 31, 2008

Bill Green talks competitiveness

There are two Bill Greens out there. The one most Mainers are familiar with, is the Bill Green of WCSH fame that brings us Bill Green’s Maine every Saturday evening, highlighting the unique qualities and people of the Pine Tree State.

The “other” Bill Green is the Chairman and CEO of Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, committed to delivering innovation, employing 150,000, in 49 countries (30,000 of these in the US).

One year ago, Green spoke before the Senate’s Committee on Finance, about the key role that education plays in global competitiveness. He also posted his thoughts about this subject of competitiveness on the Accenture blog.

Green began his post with the following:

"For as long as I can remember leaders of business and government have been trying to work more closely to improve education, and in turn, boost business and the economy. In order for Accenture to accomplish its mission of helping our clients become high-performance businesses and governments – and remain competitive ourselves – we need to attract educated and talented people.

Finding talent to improve competitiveness is the number one agenda item for countless business leaders. This is because the foundation of a competitive company is a competitive workforce … and education is the key enabler of a competitive workforce.

To make this a reality, I believe there are three principles we must broadly embrace: First, access…providing access to educational opportunities; second, affordability…making education a reality by reducing financial barriers; and third, accountability…that we are teaching what is relevant and delivering good value for money."

Additionally, Green is an advocate for junior and community colleges. Unlike many public policymakers, who graduate from prestigious institutions, with name value, Green attended Dean College, a two-year school, outside of Boston.

Said Green, in the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire, “I credit Dean College with getting me on the right path,” he said. “I was not an especially good student in high school. I spent the year after high school working in construction, and considered becoming a plumber, like my father. Then one day, I went to visit some friends who were students at Dean College, and my mindset began to change. As I walked around campus and listened to my friends talk about their experiences, I realized this was an opportunity to change my path that might never come again — an opportunity to take another shot at learning. Dean reached out a hand to me, and I can honestly say it was a life-altering experience. Our community and junior college system does the same thing for millions of students every day."

“It was a Dean professor, Charlie Kramer, who ignited my passion for economics and taught me how to think analytically. After all these years, I still have my notes from his economics classes, and I’ve referred back to them from time to time — even as I went on to Babson College, where I earned my bachelor of science degree in economics and then an M.B.A.

Would I be running a global consulting company with thousands of employees today if I’d followed a different path? Who knows? But there is no doubt that my two years at Dean College not only prepared me for advancing my education and gearing up for a career but also transformed me as a person. Our network of junior and community colleges can produce these results. I am living proof.”

Green’s success story and his advocacy for two-year college programs is a strong endorsement of the kind of middle-skills model that Maine needs to continue to move towards, if our state stands a chance, economically.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Next Steps/Essentials of Customer Service

[Next Steps graduates (L-R): Kelly Higgins, Fosiya Diriye, Kayla Hodgkin, Jamie Franks, Dorothy Roy, Deborah Dirsek, Frank Witherell, Mark Mason, Michelle Hodgdon, Tina Hutchinson, Anneliese Heinig, Susan Bubier (absent when photo was taken: Jennifer Miner and Shelly Holland]

A graduation ceremony was held last Wednesday, for group of 14 candidates who completed The Essentials of Customer Service Training, offered at Central Maine Community College. This training, a Next Steps Training model, consisted of 90 hours of workplace-specific training, including 27 hours in the Microsoft Office Suite®. This type of hard skills training followed on the heels of the 60 hour WorkReady™ for 11 of the graduates.

In addition to classroom training, graduates had the opportunity to participate in workplace tours of Sisters of Charity Health System, Citistreet, and TD Banknorth. Additionally, L.L. Bean and Affiliated Computer Services made classroom presentations about opportunities for employment, as well as a sense of what it would be like to work for these companies.

Recruitment for the program, as well as assessment, and career exploration was led by Coastal Enterprises, Inc (CEI) in collaboration with the following partners: Lewiston Adult Education, the Department of Health and Human Services/ASPIRE and the Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery, the Maine Department of Labor/Lewiston CareerCenter, and the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board. Course curriculum was developed with consultation from faculty and adjunct faculty from Central Maine Community College, and coordinated by the college’s Department of Corporate and Community Services.

Funding for the program was made possible from a grant originating with the Job Opportunities for Low-Income (JOLI) Program for Oxford and Androscoggin Counties and administered by CEI.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is a new WIRED model coming to Central/Western Maine?

[Lewiston-Auburn has a lot of positive things happening, particularly from an economic/workforce development perspective. Back in December, at our quarterly board meeting, for the Central/Western Maine Investment Board, an intriguing idea was brought forth by Paul Badeau, marketing director for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. Badeau talked about brought up the possibility of exploring avenues of economic growth tied to the Transportation, Distribution and Logistics ( or TDL), in industry parlance.

With Maine’s recent success through the North Star Alliance (NSAI) partnership, Bryant Hoffman, executive director of the Central Maine Workforce Investment Board initially met with Badeau in early January and has been pursuing the possibility of developing a similar WIRED model for TDL for Central/Western Maine.

Hoffman and NSAI Liaison, James Westhoff were in attendance at a two-day TDL Institute, in Memphis, March 18th and 19th.

Here is an overview, courtesy of Hoffman of the two day institute:]

What in the World Is TDL ?

TDL: Transportation, Distribution, Logistics. Making sure that the products and services people need and demand to lean on and live by are at the right place and the right time delivered as efficiently as possible within competitive profit margins.

TDL is the virtual glue holding the planet together: without its application life as we know it wouldn’t exist—locally, regionally, worldwide. TDL involves a wide application of products and human talent to market, develop, distribute, warehouse, assemble, sequence, deliver, and evaluate products and services using seaports, rivers, canals [the Panama and Suez, for examples], rail, highways, airways, and/or electronically.

Never slowing. Always growing. Always more competitive. Daily more sophisticated. Finding better delivery models and “unheard of” customer services. That’s TDL in a tight nutshell.

It’s a fast-paced, hands-on, active field that offers a wide variety of career and re-careering options to both wired “nerds” who can’t stand passive learning methods and “advanced degree” candidates who spin the next webs for effective product and service logistics. It’s one of those “secret” career paths that parents, teachers, guidance counselors, career development people frequently overlook or never even think of. A lot of folks don’t “get it”: TDL is itself a product—a product that everything else depends upon, since business development and growth depend on “just in time,” careful warehousing, inventory, and distribution in turn depending on people who can apply and train their many talents: people who can produce and package on line, operate forklifts, drive trucks, check and develop inventory, write programs for product distribution, design and engineer delivery systems, for examples.

Why the TDL Institute?

On March 18 and 19, the TDL Institute, a gathering instituted and managed through a partnership developed by the WIRED program in the Employment & Training Administration [ETA] in Washington, met and kind of “reinvented” itself at a gathering of public and private practitioners, business leaders and consultants, economic and career development professionals at all levels, educators and trainers offering a variety of TDL initiatives for training from 7th and 8th grade applications through PhD programs. The Institute convened at the University of Memphis (the “distribution center” of the US) at the FedEx Institute of Technology [The Fogelman Center]. The Institute did and made plans to do a number of things, including the following:
  • Continuing comprehensive review and interchange of information focused on this key industry cluster;
  • Exploring ways to make TDL a more “visible” container for virtually all of the world’s communication, services, and products;
  • Developing a web site (and BLOG] to actively track the “distribution” of programs and practitioners.

Key partners:

--Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals

--US Department of Labor—Employment & Training Administration

--Global Insight

--Manufacturing Extension Partnership

--National Association of Manufacturers

--North Carolina State University. School of Business and Economics

--Power Transmission Distributors Association [PTDA]

--Herff College of Engineering, University of Memphis Center for Intermodal Freight Transportation Studies

Meet USA's top principal

It's become popular in some circles to malign public education and some might even accuse me of that at times. Regardless of where you shake out in the debate about education, principals like Molly Howard validate my belief that we can still make the public model work.

USA Today sat down with Howard, who was selected as 2008 Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and MetLife.

Here's an educator who puts in long weeks (75-90 hours) and personifies passion for her profession. I especially appreciated some of her thoughts about competitive schools and the issues of "winners and losers."

Read the interview here.

Note: photo by Stephen Morton/USA Today

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mustard happens

I love mustard and one of my favorite mustards is made right here in the great state of Maine.

Raye’s Mustards, located in beautiful Eastport, has been in the Raye family for four generations. Their mustard mill is the last remaining traditional stone-ground mill in North America.

From their website, you learn that most modern mustards are either cooked or ground by high speed technology, Raye’s maintains the traditional cold grind process that preserves the volatile taste qualities of the whole seeds, natural herbs and spices. The resulting flavor experience comes in part from the heightened awareness of taste as the mustard stimulates the taste buds.

The company was highlighted by Lynnelle Wilson, of BoldVision Consulting, on her Making It Happen blog. She learned of Raye’s when they garnered yet another gold medal in the equivalent of the “Mustard Olympics,” the Worldwide Mustard Competition, in Napa Valley, California. They've won awards in 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2006.

Wilson is based in California, and was impressed by Raye’s. She listed four lessons we can learn from the little mustard company in Maine that could.

1) Deliver a great product. The awards tell part of the tale, but longevity tells a more important one. Great marketing is important, but it will only sell a product once. After that, quality is king. Make sure you deliver a high quality product or service. It's the best way to get repeat business.
2) Deliver a distinctive product. There are hundreds of brands of mustard. There are dozens of "gourmet" mustards. Raye's stands out. You should, too.
3) Package distinctively. To help convince you to buy more than one jar of mustard at a time, Raye's will send you three jars rolled in a wooden parchment tube with logo and a leather tie. Try getting that at the supermarket.
4) Use all your channels. The fact is that you can get Raye's at many supermarkets, even though you won't get the parchment packaging. Don't limit yourself to one channel.

Not only are these great lessons for business, they are worth applying in any work that we do. These get at those key values of quality, distinctiveness, uniqueness and determination.

Pick up a some Raye’s product for that grilling on the deck that is just around the corner.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can we model success?

Back in October, I agreed to participate in Junior Achievement, through the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President, Chip Morrison, was looking for 15 volunteers to participate with 7th graders, at Lewiston Middle School. Morrison has been an advocate of JA programming, seeing it as a means of bringing area businesspeople and other community leaders in contact with students.

Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, through experiential, hands-on programs. They do this by utilizing volunteers from each local community where they have a presence. Since its inception in 1919, JA has presented to 87 million students.

The curriculum that our local group presented was called Economics for Success. I was very impressed by the materials that I received from JA, which helped me guide a group of 20 7th graders through six weeks of activities exploring personal finance, students’ education and career options based on their skills, interests, and values. It provided a clear demonstration of the economic benefits of staying in school. Additionally, we looked at the importance of budgeting, the advantages of cash and credit, which included an excellent activity that teaches the cost of credit, as well as the final activity that dealt with identifying and minimizing risks and how insurances helps mitigate risk.

While I thought the JA materials and the curriculum were topnotch, I concluded my volunteer assignment with mixed feelings.

I met my students in early January, but with storms, school vacations and other conflicting school-based activities, I’m just finishing up today, more than halfway through March. This made creating continuity difficult. Additionally, while not ignorant of public school students (I actually spent time a decade ago, as a substitute instructor), I was still taken aback by how passive many of the students were. Most also seemed to lack confidence and self-esteem. It’s very difficult to engage them, no matter how passionate you are and how well you present the excellent, hands-on activities that JA provides. I’m sure educators, psychologists and others can provide some answers as to why this is.

Another discovery I made, during week four, when I facilitated our activity on budgeting, was how three quarters of the students didn’t even know how to perform basic calculations, using hand-held calculators. While I realize that this anecdotal at best, and doesn't indicate anything approaching an in-depth analysis of this particular classroom, I did find it somewhat disturbing.

Each student received an occupation card, which described a particular occupation and listed a monthly salary, both the gross and the net. Based on these monthly salaries, students had to create a monthly budget, with predetermined percentages being directed to housing, food, clothing, etc. For most of the students, I had to tell them what to punch into their calculators. Several students told me they didn’t have enough income for their budgeted items, which indicated that they had incorrectly computed their percentages.

I think it is important for business leaders and other community members to spend time in the classroom. It gives students a chance to have professional behavior modeled by someone other than teachers, who I believe are being asked to do more all the time. At the same time, there aren’t enough hours in the school day to prepare students for the battery of tests that are required, and still prepare them for the economic realities of a world that is becoming increasingly complex.

Despite the efforts of groups like JA, studies continue to indicate that the current paradigm utilized in U.S. public schools is leaving too many students ill-prepared for economic success in the future.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Middle-skills strategy featured in Op-Ed

This morning's Central Maine newspapers (Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel) feature an Op-Ed I wrote about the importance of middle-skills in Maine's workforce and economic development strategies. I'm posting it below. Also, don't miss the accompanying Op-Ed by Waterville High School teacher, Alan Haley, about the failure of Maine's Learning Results. It's well-written and speaks to another important issue affecting education in the state.

Middle-skill jobs still comprise half of all Maine work
By, Jim Baumer
Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel

The conventional wisdom regarding post-secondary education and career preparation has emphasized high-skills/ degree-specific programs rather than technical skills development leading to a post-secondary degree, or certification.

This has created a perception that the labor market is comprised of only low-skilled and very highly skilled jobs, with a hollowing out of the middle.

In November 2007, a national, non-partisan campaign sponsored by The Workforce Alliance, and endorsed by business partners like the National Association of Manufac-turers, issued a report titled "America's Forgot-ten Middle-Skill Jobs." The report clearly refutes that very narrow characterization of the workforce.

Authored by economists Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman, the report argues that middle-skill jobs -- those that require more than high school but less than a four-year degree -- continue to make up nearly half of all jobs today. Yet most policymakers and politicians at both the state and national levels continue to overlook these jobs, and the investments in workforce education and training required to fill them in the coming decade.

Sadly, Maine, like many other New England states, appears to be following the conventional wisdom on this issue. Changing that conventional wisdom is a matter of vital importance regarding the future prosperity of Maine. It's of crucial importance to workforce development and consequently, the economic growth of our state.

Organizations in Maine, like the Manufacturers Association of Maine, recognize that abundant opportunities exist in the state for those pursuing a career in the skilled trades. Cianbro Corp. will require about 400 skilled workers for their new module facility in Brewer, for example.

Current world economic conditions seem to indicate that demands for American exports will be on the increase, as pressure from cheap foreign imports has begun to decrease. Maine and other regional economies throughout the United States could benefit from this.

Will we be able to take advantage of these possible opportunities? Preserving (much less growing) Maine's infrastructure depends on these jobs.

Currently, America's workforce education priority is targeted toward filling one in four American jobs that require four-year or advanced college de-grees. According to Holzer and Lerman, a more comprehensive approach is required, one that addresses the de-mands of nearly 50 percent of U.S. jobs, jobs that are classified as middle-skill jobs that require more than high school, but less than a four-year degree.

Middle-skill jobs currently experiencing shortages include construction workers and inspectors, medical technicians, nurses, firefighter/EMTs, and other positions that are crucial to Maine's, as well as the nation's infrastructure, health and quality of life.

In central and western Maine, our strategic workforce plan for the next two years is clearly focused on these middle-skill jobs that the report discusses. Our board is concerned that Maine's education/training seems to focus only on the attainment of a four-year degree. Continuing this policy will result in lost jobs and productivity shortfalls for the foreseeable future. It also affects Maine's ability to support expansion of the kind of business crucial to its economic prosperity.

[Jim Baumer is director of business services for the Central/Western ME Workforce Investment Board, a non-profit organization involved in developing public/private partnerships, focused on promoting workforce opportunities and furthering Maine's economic prosperity.]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Are unions to blame?

The education debate continues to rage across the country and among various partisan groups. A Washington-based anti-union group is attempting to roil the waters, conducting a contest to choose the "worst unionized teacher in America."

The benign-sounding The Center for Union Facts is asking parents, students and other teachers Tuesday to nominate their choices for worst teacher. The center says it will choose 10 and offer each $10,000 to quit; "winners" must allow the center to write about them on its website.

The brainchild behind the contest is Rick Berman, who according to USA Today's Greg Teppo, is "a union-bashing attorney known for his in-your-face attacks on consumer, safety and environmental groups."

Berman states that he's "not trying to humiliate anyone." His intention is merely to "to jump-start a conversation that maybe people need severance packages to find themselves another line of work."

Unfortunately, I don't think Berman's group will stimulate the kind of dialogue we need to address some very real issues in American education. Creating a strawman and then, easily knocking it over won't move us in the direction we need to go.

Groups like The Conference Board, The Workforce Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a host of others are championing education reform and improvement, without fanning the flames of ideology and engaging in union-baiting.

You can see what happens when you upset the "hornet's nest," by scrolling down to the comments following the article, especially those coming from educators.

On the other hand, passion for your job, no matter what you do is important, no more so than when it comes to educating our future workforce. Accountability is important and building this in and maintaining educational integrity hasn't always been the result of our current reform.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A matter of perspective

While it's easier than ever to succumb to fear and negative thinking, due to the 24/7 nature of today's news cycle, Boomtown USA's Jack Schultz offered us a healthy dose of perspective, in this post from Friday.

He writes, "I’ve become more convinced that we’ve become a country of worriers. Last year 2/3 of Americans thought we were in a recession, when in fact, all of the economic data from this past year clearly showed that we were not.

We scared ourselves to death in the 70s when we thought that OPEC was going to rule the world, in the 80s when the Japanese were going to buy up all of California (Do you remember when the land under the Imperial Palace was worth more than ALL of California?), in the 90s with the “giant sucking sound to Mexico” and today with offshoring.

My guess is that we’ll find something new to worry about in five years. Meanwhile, we’ll have added several million new jobs, the economy will continue to grow, we’ll be doing even better than we were in 2008 but we’ll continue to think we are going off the cliff."

I'm not suggesting a Pollyanna-ish take on the problems of society, but Schultz has a good point. He also has a good post about artisanal cheesemaking that is pertinent to our own home state.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Leaving poverty behind

I am signed up to receive USA Today’s Campus Coverage email, which is geared to educators. While I’m not an educator, education is certainly a key component of workforce development and staying abreast of educational trends is important to me.

Recently, I ran across an article on overcoming poverty, by Oliver “Buzz” Thomas. Reverend Thomas is a minister in Tennessee and the author of a book with the tongue-in-cheek title, 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job). He also is a regular contributor on various issues and recently had an opinion piece in USA Today on the “path out of poverty.”

Thomas begins his article, “In the hardscrabble world of Depression-era Alabama, my daddy said there were two pictures on his wall: Jesus and President Franklin Roosevelt. There was more behind those pictures than a wall, of course. Both men were viewed as saviors. One from sin. The other from the next worst thing — poverty.

Poverty is a monster. It saps the will and can kill the spirit. For the nearly one in six American children who grow up in it, poverty is also a dream snatcher, oftentimes snatching the dream of a better life before it can rise above the cracked plaster ceiling.”

Thomas gets it. Unlike many policymakers, both state and national, Thomas understands that educational attainment, tied to skills, and oriented towards the economy of the 21st (not the 20th, or even, the 19th) century, is the best way out of poverty. That was the premise of welfare reform in the mid-90s, but a war and tax cuts seems to have derailed the process. I’m concerned that gains from the economic prosperity of the past decade will be undone, with the continued woeful funding coming from the federal government, specific to the Workforce Investment Act.
If we are in fact in a recession, state revenues will continue to trend lower, necessitating more cuts. Can Maine’s future economic viability weather another significant cut to education, on top of the current proposed cuts? I hold out hope that we don’t mortgage our future opportunities on the altar of political expediency.

You can read Thomas’ entire article here.

I also recommend this article. It’s from 2004, but I think it speaks well to the tension between advocates for increased skills and those that say we need better jobs, not an entire market of service-sector jobs.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Blogging in public

Others in the public sphere are blogging—like staff at Bangor Public Library. The most recent post that I found is one devoted to technology.

As a player in the workforce training arena, I am well aware of the issues involving all things digital, and the growing disparity between technology “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to access. The BPL post is a good one, as it raises the issue and offers a helpful solution to technology and affordable access to software.

After reading this post, if you scroll down a bit further, you’ll find one about famous Mainers and the Maine State Library. Unfortunately, I did not find my name listed.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lean Solutions: Not Just for Manufacturing

Lean solutions are not about getting rid of workforce. It is a process of focusing on value and eliminating waste. According to Time Wise Management Systems , lean training expands your ability to deliver your required services in a much more efficient manner.

I recently participated in a Maine Manufacturers Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) one-day Lean 102 workshop and it is a fantastic way to increase efficiency while decreasing waste and process time. These solutions have worked for hospitals, offices, manufacturers, and the Maine Department of Labor. Organizations have saved thousands of dollars and increased morale with these solutions. Lean training is a cultural shift within an organization and must include every employee in the process. This process fosters continuous improvement into the future and it becomes a way of thinking for everyone in the organization.

For more information on lean training in Maine go to Maine MEP and check out the Success Stories link on the left of the page.

WorkReady™ continues to garner interest

Last Friday, 50 interested individuals looking to offer a WorkReady™ training program in their area of the state, participated in a “train the trainer” workshop, in Augusta.

WorkReady™, which began in Lewiston, has now grown to where it is now overseen by a statewide steering committee, comprised of representatives from the Maine Department of Labor, Maine Department of Corrections, Adult Education, a local school superintendent, members of the economic and community development community, as well as members of the Maine Community College System. This committee is tasked with ensuring that protocols and procedures are followed, with the goal being a unified approach towards offering this innovative soft skills training program, leading towards the award of a portable credential for graduates.

Director Rob Callahan and Assistant Director Eva Giles, from Lewiston Adult Education, spent four hours making sure that attendees fully understood what goes into running a successful WorkReady™ program. Both Callahan and Giles have been involved with the Lewiston program, where the WorkReady™ was initially launched, and where it recently held its sixth graduation. They've been key members of a partnership that has facilitated a program where 70 graduates now hold the state-recognized credential. Additionally, Central/Western Maine and Area III have also had other program offerings in Farmington and Skowhegan.

The most recent WorkReady™ graduating class has gone on to the third Next Steps training, this one being centered on customer service skills. The Essentials of Customer Service training is being held at Central Maine Community College, where 14 trainees are receiving nearly 100 hours of specific training in the elements of what customer service is and how to deliver it.

This is part of our focus in Central/Western Maine, as a workforce board, towards creating a “laddered” approach, leading to a post-secondary degree, or certification. This ties in very well with the need for middle-skills, where the majority of job creation will occur over the next decade.

Other WorkReady developments in Central/Western Maine:


On Friday, 11 candidates participated in an orientation for the second WorkReady™ pilot being offered in Somerset County. The participants will be learning the essential soft skills that employers require in job applicants. Several of the candidates had been “displaced, working in occupations that have disappeard, due to the loss of manufacturing jobs, due to offshoring American jobs.


The first-ever WorkReady™ pilot launched this morning, when 11 candidates participated in an orientation at Kennebec Learning Center. This particular pilot is focused on the 16-24-year-old out-of-school youth population. This pilot also is the first WorkReady™ program which incorporates an additional 20 hour component centered on computer literacy and application. This has been facilitated by a partnership with Coastal Enterprises, Inc.