Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Maine Career Development Association Workforce Trends Fall Workshop

On Friday, November 21st the Maine Career Development Association held its Annual Fall Workshop at the University College at Rockland (UROCK as it is now known). The workshop was fantastic with four great sessions covering labor demographics, the aging workforce, cultural considerations for new Mainers, and an employer panel focusing on the healthcare and technology fields. In my opinion, the most important information that came from the day were the on-line resources that I will share below.

John Dorrer from the Maine Dept. of Labor, Center for Workforce Research and Information (CWRI) gave a great presentation on labor demographics. Even though the economic outlook is bleak in the near future, I came away with a positive feeling that Maine has the workforce and educational infrastructure to succeed in these difficult times. According to John, data will help us make the most pragmatic decisions on what career fields to focus on. The Local Employment Dynamics website, shared by John, is a great site for economic and workforce folks to have at their fingertips. With a click of the mouse anyone can use this site to do research on Maine's workforce in any field statewide or down to zip code. This is a completely free and very easy to use website. John shared that job growth would be in the healthcare field (51%), professional/business (18%), and leisure & hospitality (17%).

In the second session, Phyllis Cohn of the AARP, discussed issues around Maine's aging workforce. Her main discussion points were about how to help businesses effectively bring together the different generations that are working side-by-side and prepare for secession planning. She shared three resources from the AARP website that will be helpful to career and business counselors. They have a workforce assessment that businesses can use to determine their demographic levels and how they are engaging the workforce. Second, is the AARP's Employer Resource Center that provides much information about the needs of different generations of employees and how they work together. Third, AARP has a list of best employers for older workers. Finally, Phyllis shared one other resource that is not related to the above topic, but I thought it was very interesting. The Center to Champion Nursing is a great advocacy program developed by the AARP and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote education and careers in this field.

The final two sessions were covering cultural considerations when working with New Mainers and an employer panel that discussed workforce trends in technology and healthcare. New Mainers are an untapped population that could be extremely important for Maine's workforce in the near future. Joe Kumiszcza, the Executive Director of TechMaine (the technology association in Maine) shared that he is seeing 300 jobs a month on his career website.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Maine Teachers Learn about Marine and Composite Careers

Over the past 2 months I have been involved in a "Building Bridges" program with Maine teachers. It has been the best and most exciting program I have worked on in my short time as the North Star Industry Liaison. Three groups of teachers from the Augusta, Bath, and Wiscasset districts each visited four different employers to learn about careers in the boat building, composites, and marine trades. The fifth visit was at Bath Iron Works and all of the teachers participated in that event. The overall goal of the "Building Bridges" program was for the teachers to learn what employers are looking for in industry and to apply this knowledge to their curriculum.

I participated with the Augusta teachers as they visited Hodgdon Interiors in Richmond, Kenway in Augusta, Tex-Tech Industries in Monmouth, Great Pond Marina in Belgrade Lakes, and BIW. At Hodgdon Interiors they learned about the precision cabinet making that goes into multi-million dollar boats. The teachers were able to ask questions of the employees and directly see the attention-to-detail that goes into this work.

Kenway produces large composite parts for hydro and energy plants on one side of their production facility. On the other side, Kenway produces small composite pleasure boats. The teachers were able to see the closed-mold infusion of a boat and the vertical infusion of a 20' tall part for an energy plant.

At Tex-Tech we saw the production of composite fabrics for tennis balls, acoustic insulation on aircraft, to fabrics for military application. Finally, we visited Great Pond Marina, a family-owned small business. Here the teachers learned about the importance of customer service and how a small business owner has given great benefits to his employees. Bob Gardner has created a small staff that is very loyal and motivated because they are treated extremely well.

On Tuesday, November 18th all of the teachers came together for the final session of "Building Bridges". They all shared what they learned from their visits and how they are going to apply the knowledge in the classroom. To a person, all of the teachers felt that this was one of the best experiences of their careers and they were very motivated to do a similar program for their students. Many of the teachers shared that they have already used stories from their visits in the classroom. Building Bridges is an inexpensive and fairly easy program to carry out. I truly believe we should be doing these types of programs with students and teachers in different career fields.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Green means go

The development of a green jobs sector in Maine continues to be an area of focus of mine, beyond basic skills development, such as WorkReady. Tuesday was illustrative of our workforce board’s multi-pronged approach to workforce development.

I began my day in Waterville, which is slowly becoming one of my favorite Maine communities. I got to participate in the city’s first-ever WorkReady graduation. After graduation, it was time to make the 20 mile drive northeast, to Unity.

[On the road to Unity]

Unity, just over the county line, in Waldo County, was once home to a thriving poultry industry. When hard times hit the industry in Maine during the mid-1960s, Unity lost its major employer. As the old adage goes, when handed lemons, you make lemonade. Well in Unity, when handed the loss of poultry-processing, they decided to start a college. In 1965, Unity College, located on Quaker Hill (on the site of a former chicken farm, nonetheless), was born. It is now the town’s largest employer.

I first met Vice President of Advancement, Rob Constantine, at the Maine Development Foundation’s Annual Meeting, back in September. Rob and I struck up a conversation about workforce, education, and in particular, a green jobs-based economy for Maine. He extended an invite to the college. While I regularly have made my way to Unity each fall for the Common Ground Country Fair, I had never visited the town’s college campus.

As luck would have it, both Rob and I had open slots on our calendars in the afternoon, so I left Waterville, and it was northeast or bust for me.

If other guests are treated as well as I was, and given such a great overview of Unity, then it’s not surprising that the school’s star is on the rise. Rob’s obvious passion for his job, and his skill at presenting the school’s mission and focus were evident during my 2+ hours touring the grounds, and meeting staff and faculty.

Given my interest in seeing Maine develop an energy sector, with an economy oriented towards green jobs, as well as Unity’s orientation towards environmental sciences and sustainable practices, the match was obvious; even more pronounced once Rob began expounding on the various things happening on campus.

It became apparent to me that Unity is a school that could incorporate the necessary training if and when the Maine and the rest of the U.S. adopts an economic development model tied to green energy, and in particular the kind of jobs that sector would produce.

While Unity currently offers only four-year degree programs, I think if a clear career track was identified, with the attendant core skills delineated, the leadership style of the institution appears capable of program offerings that would meet whatever demand becomes necessary to support a green economy.

[Unity House--comfortable living, and carbon-neutral]

One of the highlights of my visit was meeting Cindy Tomashow, the Unity president's wife, and getting a tour of Unity House, the school's zero carbon solar home that the school built in partnership with MIT School of Design, and Bensonwood Homes. You can read about elements of this intriguing house at a blog devoted to it.

While some continue to call green jobs "pie in the sky," nothing could be further from the truth. Already, groups like Opportunity Maine have come forward with plans that can begin training programs immediately. Rob Brown and Clifford Ginn have developed "A New Energy Initiative for Maine," which provides a clear path for Maine. From the executive summary,

Many of the jobs of the New Energy economy will be similar to or the same as those of the fossil fuel economy. For every new energy auditor, solar thermal installer or wind technician, Maine will need dozens more electrical or HVAC technicians, insulation installers, steelworkers, carpenters, plumbers and IT specialists, but with upgraded certifications in a variety of green skills. We must move aggressively to increase our supply of green-skilled workers to address our immediate heating crisis and to meet the needs of a broader, emerging New Energy sector.

Other states, like Oregon and Massachusetts have models in place, so Maine doesn't have to reinvent the wheel in moving forward. Nationally, there is a Clean Energy Jobs Bill, currently awaiting funding, which could come in the form of a stimulus package for infrastructure with the coming of the new administration. Then there are people like Van Jones, who sees an opportunity for clean energy to lift the economic boats of many, rather than just a few.

Maine continues to surprise and amaze me with its innovation, great people, and potential for the future. Every time I think I know the state, some new aspect jumps up and presents itself. Green jobs and an energy sector is something that Mainers have the wherewithal to do, all it takes is a little vision--just like a group of chicken farmers had in Unity, back in 1965.

WorkReady in Waterville

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of being in Waterville and seeing nine candidates receive their WorkReady credentials, having successfully completed the 60-hour, three-week course, wonderfully facilitated once again by the gifted Kathleen Lewia. Kathleen also facilitated our recent WorkReady in Pittsfield, for laid-off San Antonio Shoes’ workers.

The program in Waterville was our first offering of WorkReady in this city of just over 15,000, located in Northern Kennebec County. The impetus behind bringing our workforce board in to coordinate the recruitment of businesses, and gathering various community partners, came from Kim Lindlof, president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, John Butera, executive director for the Central Maine Growth Council, and Ken Young, executive director of the Kennebec Council of Governments. Their interest in WorkReady was a result of a determination they made, after consulting with local business leaders in greater-Waterville that workforce development is a key component in Waterville’s (and the region's) future growth.

Our graduation was held in the heart of downtown, at the Center, which formerly was Sterns Department store, for those old enough to remember. The building is now a mixed-use building with retail space, professional offices, a theater, a dance studio, meeting rooms, and an indoor playground. REM, a downtown grassroots non-profit housed at The Center, rents out the Forum, which we used for our graduation. With its large window, looking out onto Main Street, providing us with abundant natural light, the space was a wonderful venue for our first graduation.

[Group photo of the WorkReady graduates]

WorkReady continues to provide a foundational first step for many low wage/low skill workers, as well as others transitioning from under-employment, or unemployment, into viable work opportunities. Programs like the one in Waterville, under Kathleen Lewia’s tutelage, also help get at some of the root self-image and presentation issues that often plague significant portions of our potential workforce, keeping them from realizing their full potential.

[Kathleen Lewia shares her thoughts about WorkReady]

[Graduate Heaven Love speaks eloquently about what WorkReady meant to the group]

The employer community was supportive our initial effort, with the following employers providing in-kind support by participating in our mock interview day, the week before:

Kennebec Valley Council of Governments
Bonney Staffing
Mid-State Machine
Global Card Services of Pittsfield
The Hampton Inn of Waterville

Other community partners that were particularly supportive and made the program a success were Mid-Maine Regional Adult and Community Education, which delivered our curriculum and coordinated instruction. The United Way of Mid-Maine graciously provided classroom space for our program. Coastal Enterprises, Incorporated provided partial funding for the program.

A special thanks is extended to Nikki Desjardins of the Hampton Inn, for her efforts in helping with recruitment, as well as spreading the word throughout the employer community. Nikki also helped connect me with key community partners. She has become an ambassador for WorkReady in Waterville.

Tonya Clark of T-Mobile has also been an enthusiastic supporter of our first pilot.

WorkReady has been and continues to be a collaborative effort in each community where it finds success. I am optimistic about the program’s long-term future in Waterville, given our first run through.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

College costs continue to escalate

The cost of a college education continues to spike upward. While this is problematic for all students contemplating college in the near future, as well as their parents, it is increasingly an issue for states like Maine, which is struggling to increase the numbers of students enrolling in higher education.

A survey just released by the College Board, a nonprofit association of educational institutions that provides assistance to college-bound students, indicates that tuition for the year climbed 6.4 percent for in-state students at public four-year institutions, to an average of $6,585. Private colleges jumped 5.9 percent to an average of $25,143. The cost of attending community colleges declined, after adjusting for inflation, by 0.8 percent to $2,300 for the year.

A report released earlier in 2008, by the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based non-profit, indicates that the United States spends more per student than any other industrialized nation, yet it ranks at the bottom in degree completion (54%), says a 2007 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The organization average is 71%; the high is 91% in Japan.

At the same time, the United States leads the world in the number of years its students spend in school, seat time obviously doesn't always translate into performance.

[Ctr. for College Affordability and Productivity, 11/3/2008]

For some, data like this is calling into question the accepted wisdom of continuing to push four-year college as a panacea to all our problems.

Speaking to this, with a clear mandate for Maine, is a recent report indicating the direction that New England should take to succeed as a region, in the 21st century. You can read an executive summary of the Nellie Mae Foundation report, prepared by a Boston-based non-profit, Jobs for the Future, here.

For a college student's perspective on the cost of college and what it means to him, as well as some thoughts he has about an Obama presidency, you can read Zac Bissonnette's recent post from The Daily Beast.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Supporting Maine's lobster industry

Maine's traditional industries have been buffeted by various forces of late. The fuel price spike this summer was one of the issues many faced. The economic downturn has also been wreaking havoc.

There may not be a more iconic traditional industry in Maine than its lobster industry. Anyone who has spent time traveling Maine's coastline will attest to that.

Like much of rural Maine, the old ways are changing, and not always for the best.

Back in early October, the bottom fell out of the lobster market, as prices plunged from an already ridiculously low boat price of $2.60/lb (in Port Clyde), to $2.25/lb. At one point in October, the price hit rock bottom, at $1.75/lb, in Friendship. One doesn't need to be an economist to know that with all the other price pressures lobsterman were facing, that this was not a positive development. These prices were the lowest they had been since just after the attacks of 9/11. For more on this issue, you can read Sandra Dinsmore's article in The Working Waterfront.

One Maine business has recognized the plight of Maine's lobster industry and is taking steps to promote one of Maine's best-known products.

From a news release issued by the Harraseeket Inn:

Greetings from the Harraseeket Inn,

In our effort to help put extra money into our lobstermen’s pockets, we are going to do our part by buying and selling as many lobsters as we possibly can. We’ll be doing this a number of ways. For the month of November, we will be including halved lobsters on our Sunday Brunch Buffet at the same price as our regular buffet. Our Chef de Cuisine, Gallitt Sammon, has prepared a 5 course nightly lobster tasting menu in our Maine Dining Room. We will also be running nightly specials in our Broad Arrow Tavern. With the help of our friends over at Potts Harbor lobster, we’re going to be offering live or cooked lobsters to all of our guests to take home at a reasonable price. We’re also creating a special overnight “Lobster Lovers” package plan to include all of the above. We think it’s important that everyone think of ways to help such a vital part of Maine’s economy and identity.

There is a lobster brunch is this Sunday, so we hope to see you there!

Thank you,

The Gray Family

For more information, contact the Harraseeket Inn 162 Main Street, Freeport, Maine 04032, 800-342-6423 or 207-865-9377

Monday, November 3, 2008

WorkReady graduation-River Valley

Last Thursday, a group of six graduates received their WorkReady credentials at an awards ceremony at The Bear-ly Inn and Restaurant, in Dixfield. The credential signified that they had completed the seven standards of the WorkReady curriculum. This was the second program that's run in the River Valley area of western Maine, and was the 15th WorkReady program that's been coordinated by the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board.

At the graduation, I met a local reporter from the Rumford Falls Times, a community weekly. The reporter, Amy Chapman, had written an article back in October detailing the program while it was in session. I thought Chapman's article was well-written and did an excellent job of capturing the particulars of the Rumford-Mexico-Dixfield program.

One small caveat to Chapman's article. While WorkReady was developed under the auspices of the Department of Education/Adult Education, in Maine, the Department of Labor was not involved in WorkReady's development. Their role has been primarily as a partner, through the CareerCenter system, aiding in recruitment, and participating in the assessment of candidates.

WorkReady class underway at Region 9

Rumford Falls Times, Oct. 22, 2008
By Amy Chapman

MEXICO – A dozen area adult learners are gaining practical job search, resume, and interview skills, thanks to the WorkReady program at Region 9. Created jointly by the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Labor and offered to participants free of charge, WorkReady offers training in the “soft skills” needed to be successful at work.

Some of those who are enrolled in the class have been laid off from long-term employment and need to put together a resume before re-entering the job market. Some are receiving public assistance and are eager to find work to support themselves and their families. And others, tired of a series of dead-end jobs, are looking for more challenging and fulfilling careers.

Several students said they came to the class through the ASPIRE program. ASPIRE, which stands for Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment, is Maine’s welfare-to-work program. It provides support for living expenses, clothing, and school supplies while recipients are attending classes to increase their employability.

What all the participants have in common is a desire to make themselves more attractive to potential employers by learning how to handle the job search and interview process, and more likely to succeed in future employment by improving their skills in everything from computer basics to social interaction.

The class is being offered at Region 9 through a grant from Coastal Enterprises, which improved on the basic 60-hour WorkReady course by funding an additional 20 hours of training. The extra class time allows participants to develop their computer skills, giving them time to work in the computer lab each day, said instructor Jolan Ippolito.

The students come in with a variety of computer skills, she said. Some are quite proficient, while others have never before used a computer and must begin with learning how to turn it on.

“I was completely computer illiterate,” admitted Linda Waters. “I still don’t know very much about them.” Ippolito assured her that by the end of the course all students will possess basic skills with email, internet searches, and Microsoft Word. These basics will give them the tools they need to research careers, find and apply for jobs on-line, and create cover letters and resumes.

Area employers come to Region 9 to work with the WorkReady class, offering mock interviews to help them get ready for the real thing once they graduate from the program. They offer feedback, letting the students know what they are doing well and what they need to work on to become competitive in the job market.

The program’s community business partners include Oxford Federal Credit Union, Boralex, Northeast Bank, Hannaford, Franklin Savings Bank, Mark Henry Enterprises, Hancock Lumber, Western Maine Insurance, and Sunday River Ski Area.

“The employers who are brought in to the class will help me know how to handle myself in interviews,” said Terra Tidswell.

“I’ve spent many years in business,” said Ippolito, “but in this class I’m able to tell people the things I couldn’t tell them as an employer—things like what skills they lacked that prevented them from getting the job they interviewed for.”

Many students find that the WorkReady class opens up new possibilities. “We’re distinguishing between jobs and careers,” said Veronica Ames. “A lot of us just survived on jobs while we were raising our families, but now we’re looking for careers for the rest of our working lives. I’ve especially enjoyed the self-discovery phase—finding out what I want to be, know, and learn. It’s about building up self-esteem and learning how to sell ourselves and our abilities.”

Tidswell, a mother of three, said it was important to her to set a good example for her children by doing something that would expand her opportunities. “I want to teach my kids that you have to get out there and do something for yourself,” she said.

Many students said the supportive atmosphere and positive feedback from classmates increased their self-esteem and helped them raise their aspirations. “I needed to work on my resume, but I really needed a support system,” said Sholarn Jones. “It’s helpful to get feedback from others about your good qualities.”

Ippolito said one of the most important aspects of the class is teaching students how to set goals. Ames agreed, adding, “A lot of people don’t know how to set goals. We might say, ‘My goal is to earn $100 to pay my light bill,’ but that’s a really short-term goal. We need to plan for medium- and long-term goals, like finding a career, and learn how to break them down into small, manageable pieces.”

“This class is a comprehensive tool,” said student Germaine Carrier. “It gives you a lot of skills you really need to have before you present yourself for a job interview.”

WorkReady is always looking for community business partners. Employers and businesses who would like to find out more information or participate in the program should contact Jim Baumer, Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board at 207-753-9026.

[WorkReady grads and program partners]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What does Maine's energy future look like?

Mainebiz, along with Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), hosted an energy symposium on Thursday, at the Wyndham Hotel, in South Portland.

The Powering Up Maine event was meant to highlight how Maine's businesses are dealing with rising energy costs in the state. Like any event remotely linked to alternative energy, and tagged with a "green" label, this one was well-attended, with close to 200 participants on hand. It probably didn't hurt that former Governor, Angus King, was the keynote speaker.

King, who has become a champion for wind power talked about wind being the solution to our energy needs. He laid out a case for wind having the potential to gradually replace our dependence on fossil fuels. Since Maine relies heavily on fossil fuels, it is King's contention that Maine must look for new sources within the state to meet its energy needs. Citing Maine's abundant wind resources, particularly those in Casco Bay, his proposal is for a series of "wind ranches," built miles offshore on large platforms.

“The wind potential off the coast of Maine could make us the Saudia Arabia of the world,” said King."

According to King, there is a great deal of interest in the idea, but it will require action on the part of Maine's business community and policymakers for it to happen.

King is one of the principals in a wind power firm in western Maine, Independence Wind, LLC.

After the keynote, a panel discussion featuring business owners and state leaders was held, highlighting some of the challenges inherent in creating new energy sources, and alternative methods of power generation.

The panel featured Sara Burns, president and CEO of Central Maine Power Company, Tony Buxton, chair of Preti Flaherty's Energy and Utilities Practice Group, Pat Coon, managing partner of Revision Energy, Don Hudson, president of The Chewonki Foundation, and David Wilby, director of development and public affairs, at First Wind.

Burns spoke about issues faced by CMP as it upgrades its power grid. This project is essential in bringing additional new electrical capacity online. Currently, the company is running into a variety of challenges from residential customers, and others, exhibiting "not in my backyard" behaviors, and opposition to necessary improvements required to complete the upgrades.

Coon spoke extensively about conservation and efficiency being keys to the state's energy challenges it faces. He spoke about the lack of understanding that many residential electrical consumers have about basic elements of their consumption.

One of the challenges I recognized from the panel discussion (which was being recorded by MPBN for later broadcast) is that even among the five panelists, there was a lack of agreement about what represents the right energy mix for Maine. What percentages should oil, natural gas, hydro, biomass, wind make up?

Buxton talked about natural gas as being a key component, which wasn't agreed upon by the other four panelists. Both Buxton and Burns talked about an important, and often overlooked component of alternative energy and the greening of our power production options--jobs for Mainers.

In a state where residents of its rural areas are more and more turning to gaming/gambling as economic development tools, jobs and workforce development should be given their proper place in the mix, when alternative energy development is discussed.

Beyond that, Thursday's symposium is an important initial step to further discussions about what Maine's energy landscape will look like in five to 10 years.