Monday, May 5, 2008

Helping Maine Thrive

I’m convinced that Maine is at a crossroads of where it can go as a state. One choice is continuing the status quo, which is the easiest thing to do. If the state makes that choice, it will continue us down the pathway strewn with a rash of low-wage, low-skilled jobs that pay workers wages that they can’t support their families on. This leads to the type of revenue issues that the state has been struggling with for the past decade.

The other choice, which I’ve been vocal about, and fits the workforce development model of our board, here in Central/Western Maine, is the development of middle-skills, which is where between 40 to 45 percent of all job openings in the economy through 2014, will be. Compare this to one-third in high skilled occupations and the remaining 22 percent, which will occur in low-skilled occupations.

I wrote an Op Ed about this, which ended up being published in the Central Maine newspapers, as well as sending out about 60 emails to legislators, policymakers, and others in positions to make a difference about the issue. Interestingly, I received one response, from State Representative, Mark Samson (D-Auburn). That spoke volumes to me about where everyone else's priorities seem to be.

On Friday night, at a family birthday party, that Op Ed was the subject of a conversation I had with my wife’s niece’s husband. He works for a well-established manufacturing firm, in Westbrook, and apparently, one of his co-workers is quite interested in the subject of middle-skills. He forwarded an email to him, which happened to highlight my Op Ed. The private sector certainly gets the importance of it, as was evidenced during last week’s manufacturing summit, in Lewiston.

This morning, I had an email forwarded to me, which mentioned a new report, being launched by the Council on Competitiveness. Thrive: The Skills Imperative, calls for America to leverage untapped opportunities, particularly in the service economy.

The Council recognizes that the challenges posed by globalization, technological change and volatile financial markets require new workforce strategies that prioritize around skills that are not easily offshored, difficult to replicate and quicken the pace of innovation. According to the report, middle-skilled jobs represent the largest number of job openings in the United States, but have critical shortages.

Recently, Senators Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) convened a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill to coincide with the report’s release. Their intent was to urge policymakers to set a national agenda to equip Americans with the skills needed to compete globally.

I laud their efforts and I urge Mainers to take the time to look at this report. It’s an important issue and not one that can be ignored any longer, if Maine’s economy is going to grow and prosper over the next decade.

While parts of the country are taking a hit during our current economic downturn, other areas are prospering. Maine has opportunities, with the growth of green technologies, as well as looking at wealth generation in both manufacturing, agriculture, as well as entrepreneurship, to position itself for prosperity, if it can gain some focus on key issues, instead of focusing all its energy on taxes, special interests, and economic doom and gloom.

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