Thursday, February 28, 2008

A casino for Oxford County?

Oxford casino could appear on ballot

The Maine Secretary of State's office yesterday approved a referendum proposal to allow a casino in Oxford County to appear on the November ballot, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Wednesday approved a referendum petition for a question that reads, "Do you want to allow a certain Maine company to have the only casino in Maine, to be located in Oxford County, if part of the revenue is used to fund specific state programs?" Under the current law, the Legislature could approve the casino, which would include slot machines, table games and card games, as proposed, but likely will send the issue to voters on the Nov. 4 ballot, the paper said.

If voters approve the casino, elected officials and voters in the as-yet-unnamed Oxford County host town would also need to approve it. The casino is proposed by Seth Carey, an attorney and president of Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC, which was formed to promote the plan.

Maine has one other gambling facility, Penn National Gaming Inc.’s Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor, which in November surpassed $1 billion in wagers and $74 million in net revenue, the paper reported.

(from The Daily/Mainebiz)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Customer service faux pas

Customer service skills are required in today’s workforce as never before. In fact, it is a rare occupation in today’s 21st century world that doesn’t utilize some of the key customer service skills that are essential for quality customer interaction, as well as satisfaction. While technology often gets the press and is lauded, I’m more inclined to go with the human element, when weighting work skills for future success. The following story, which gets played out each and every day, is far too common.

Two days ago, in need of a mid-afternoon caffeine boost, I stopped by a local coffee chain that is very well known and has a famous culinary spokesperson doing commercials for them. I waited in line, ready to order my standard medium coffee, cream only. In front of me was a young woman who was attempting to acquire a latte, which the counterperson for this national chain wasn't aware that they offered. Obviously struggling with the task at hand, he asked the customer several questions pertaining to ingredients and the type of container that it came in. Unfortunately, the very patient customer had never ordered a latte at this establishment, but knew she wanted it hot; the employee seemed to think it was a cold drink, with ice, which the customer politely, but firmly said wasn’t what she wanted and didn’t think that’s what it should be.

Finally, for all of our sakes (or so I thought), a very efficient co-worker came along to bail out this gentleman struggling with the task at hand. She proceeded to lambast him verbally, in front of the young lady and I, rudely saying to him, “how long have you worked here? You should know how to make a latte by now!” She also scolded him for using the wrong cup size.

Rather than dress down this embarrassed young man, who I felt sorry for (for a variety of reasons, not the least being his obvious lack of work skills), she should have smiled at the customer wanting the latte and apologized for her inconvenience, as she had been waiting for more than five minutes. Additionally, I was being inconvenienced and while someone did step forward to take my order, there was no acknowledgement of a very sorry exhibition of customer service.

While I enjoy this chain’s brand of coffee, I can’t commend their customer service. This isn’t the first time that their customer service has been less than satisfactory. On the other hand, I’ve never had a bad experience with one of their coffee competitors, Starbucks.

Their baristas are friendly, efficient and always committed to making sure that customers leave satisfied. While some choose to criticize the multinational chain about fair-trade policies, labor practices and other issues, in my opinion, their coffee is good (albeit a bit pricey) and their service has always been exemplary in my presence.

Note of interest: Starbucks shut down all of its nearly 7,100 national stores for three hours, last night, in order for employees to receive retraining. In Chicago (and possibly elsewhere), Dunkin’ Donuts handed out free small hot lattes in all of its 450 Chicagoland stores. I wonder if their workers knew how to make them?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maine's premiere brand moving westward

L.L. Bean, Maine’s venerable outdoor gear and apparel outfitter, is expanding its retail operations outside of New England, with the planned opening of a 30,000 square foot store, in a Chicago suburb.

The 30,000-square-foot store will be located at the Arboretum at South Barrington, a retail center that is now under construction in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. The store will be built according to U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards, which according to MediaPost’s Marketing Daily, will incorporate “the creative use of recycled and reclaimed materials as well as state of the art energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems.”

The expansion into the Chicago area is part of a larger retail expansion strategy, L.L. Bean officials said. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the Arboretum of South Barrington is an open-air shopping center spanning 86 acres. Tenants include retailers Ann Taylor Loft, Victoria's Secret and Circuit City.

"L.L. Bean has many catalog and web customers in the Chicago area, which is one of our largest markets," Ken Kacere, the company's senior vice-president of retail, says in a statement. "Our new stores will showcase a unique product selection for our active outdoor customers."

The South Barrington store will employ about 125 people. In addition to selling gear and clothing, the store will include an Outdoor Discovery School for customers to learn about kayaking, fly fishing and other sports for which L. L. Bean’s products are used.

The company, founded in 1912, by Leon Leonwood Bean, has grown from a one-man operation to a global enterprise, with annual sales of $1.5 billion. The Chicago area store is the first L.L. Bean retail store west of Philadelphia and is part of the company’s plans to open up to nine new stores by 2012.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Budget cuts for Maine's Community Colleges?

Maine’s Community College System is a comprehensive two-year college system that offers over 300 career and transfer programs, as well as internships, and customized training for business and industry. It remains one of Maine’s key institutions for preparing the state’s workforce for the demands of the 21st century.

The state is fortunate to have seven campuses located across the state of Maine. You can find a MCCS campus in Auburn, Bangor, Fairfield, Presque Isle, South Portland, Calais, and Wells. Additionally, there are off-campus centers are located in Augusta, Bath, Caribou, Dover-Foxcroft, East Millinocket, Ellsworth, Houlton, South Paris, and South Portland.

Knowing of the key role that Maine’s Community Colleges play in building a bridge to economic prosperity for the state, it was with great concern that I read the following article in this morning’s Portland Press Herald.

Here are a few facts to consider about a community college education:

  • 95% of graduates are placed in jobs or continue their education
  • 95% of employed graduates find jobs in Maine
  • The Community Colleges offer the lowest tuition in Maine: $78 per credit hour-or about $2,340 a year Degree enrollment is up 47 percent since 2002 —to 11,078 students

The state’s budget shortfalls have been on the minds of many Mainers and apparently, the deficit is even greater than originally reported.

According to the Press Herald article, “program cuts in the Maine Community College System are being considered, which could have a negative affect on the career plans of many of Maine's community college students."

The Legislature already is dealing with a supplemental budget that proposes $95 million in spending cuts, submitted by Gov. John Baldacci in January. Lawmakers been told to “lop off” an $99 million, due primarily because of lower- than-expected revenue. The exact figure will be determined this week.

The state's Department of Education has been asked to make about $47 million in cuts.

The bulk of those cuts -- $36.8 million -- would be achieved by changing the state education aid funding formula to delay the state's goal of paying 55 percent of public school costs. Higher education, spared in the governor's initial $95 million supplemental budget, now faces nearly $2 million in cuts at the seven community colleges and $6 million in cuts to the University of Maine System.

Budget woes at the statehouse are no laughing matter. However, cuts to programs that help to prepare Maine’s young for employment and success in the workplace are not the place where these ought to be made. Furthermore, graduates of these institutions are very likely to remain in Maine, accessing jobs that pay well and will contribute needed revenue to the state in the future.

Maine needs more opportunity for its young and as I wrote about last week, mid-level skills are where it’s at. Maine’s Community Colleges are one place that’s preparing future workers with these skills to succeed.

Here’s a great essay by Liz Addison, a student at SMCC, on why community colleges are important. Just another reason to resist "pulling the trigger" on cuts to these vital education institutions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Talent vs. human resources

I like HR people. They're a busy group, as HR professionals wear many hats and often, don't get the recognition they deserve. They also wield considerable influence. If you doubt that, you've obviously never gotten rejected for a position.

Seth Godin, author of Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync, and fellow blogger, has some interesting thoughts about marketing and HR, from a post he put up yesterday, on his blog.

From SG's blog:
Understand that in days of yore, factories consisted of people and machines. The goal was to use more machines, fewer people, and to design processes so that the people were interchangeable, low cost and easily replaced. The more leverage the factory-owner had, the better. Hence Personnel or the even more cruel term: HR. It views people as a natural resource, like lumber.

Like it or not, in most organizations HR has grown up with a forms/clerical/factory focus. Which was fine, I guess, unless your goal was to do something amazing, something that had nothing to do with a factory, something that required amazing programmers, remarkable marketers or insanely talented strategy people.

So, here's my small suggestion, one that will make some uncomfortable.
Change the department name to Talent.

The reason this makes some people uncomfortable is that it seems like spin, like gratuitous double speak. And, if you don't change what you do, that would be true.

BUT... (read the rest here).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Don't forget the middle

The conventional wisdom bandied about concerning post secondary education and career preparation is that the American labor market is comprised of very low-skilled and very highly-skilled jobs, with a hollowing out of the middle.

Back in November, as part of a national campaign called Skills2Compete, a report titled, America’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs, was released, refuting that notion. The report, authored by economists Harry Holzer (Georgetown University and The Urban Institute) and Robert Lerman (American University and The Urban Institute) 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 national policymakers and politicians continue to overlook these jobs, and the investments in workforce education and training required to fill them in the coming decade. Unfortunately, Maine appears to be following the conventional wisdom on this.

However, in Central/Western Maine, we've recognized the importance of these middle-skill jobs and career opportunities. As part of our strategic workforce plan for the next two years, the focus has been on these types of jobs and training initiatives that point us towards what the Skills2Compete report talks about.

Organizations in Maine, like the Manufacturers Association of Maine, recognize that abundant opportunities exist in Maine, for those pursuing a career in the skilled trades. Cianbro Corporation will require somewhere in the vicinity of 400 skilled workers for their new module facility in Brewer. Current economic conditions indicate that demands for American exports could be on the increase, as pressure from cheap foreign imports has begun to decrease. Maine and other regional economies throughout the U.S. could benefit from this. Will we be able to take advantage of these possible opportunities and capture potential new markets?

Currently, America’s workforce education priority is targeted towards filling the 1 in 4 American jobs that require four-year or advanced college degrees. According to the report, a more comprehensive approach is required, one that addresses the demands 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. Currently, middle-skill jobs experiencing shortages include construction workers and inspectors, medical technicians, nurses, firefighter/EMTs, and other positions that are crucial to the nation’s infrastructure, health and quality of life.

For more on where our workforce priorities need to be focused, read the entire report.

The Workforce Alliance also break it out state-by-state. An evaluation of Maine's challenge can be found here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lewiston WorkReady™ celebrates sixth graduation

Without much fanfare, or outside recognition, the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board, along with its partners, have quietly developed a model training initiative, called WorkReady™. This 60-hour soft skills training program, has now graduated over 70 candidates, since it began, in May, 2006.

On Friday, 10 graduates received their WorkReady™ credentials in a noontime ceremony, held at Marco’s Restaurant, in Lewiston. During the three weeks of the program, all of these participants took significant steps forward in their lives. Some, for the first time, were able to pinpoint specific personal obstacles that have consistently held them back and prevented them from achieving workplace and even, personal success in their lives.

[Employers gather to review trainee portfolios]

As a state, Maine must step up its efforts to reach out to and train segments of its labor force that for too long, have languished, and have been discounted in value. One such group is comprised of Mainers who lack the requisite skills required in today’s 21st century economy. As a result, far too many of our citizens have not worked consistently, or for wages that they can live on. Worse, the human potential that they represent has been under-utilized.

WorkReady™ originated from an informal conversation that took place between Bryant Hoffman, executive director of the Central/Western MaineWorkforce Investment Board and State Director of Adult Education and Family Literacy, Maine Department of Education, Becky Dyer, during a break at a seminar both were attending, in 2005. At the time, there had been talk among workforce and education professionals, as well as members of the employer community about the need for some type of targeted ready-to-work program. While there were several successful models and curriculums being utilized in other states (like Florida and Louisiana) nationwide, Maine’s lack of available funding for skills-based training made the purchase of these other curriculums impossible.

[One trainee's aspirations]

An incubator grant co-sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration and the National Alliance of Workforce Boards, allowed Hoffman to proceed with discussions towards launching a ready-to-work pilot in Maine.

Dyer began designing a curriculum, often utilizing in-kind contributions from staff, as well as feedback garnered from employers participating in the Progressive Alliance for Careers and Training Project, funded by an earmark grant to Coastal Enterprises, Inc., which validated the notion that employers were looking for “soft” or “applied” skills.

The graduation on Friday is the 6th graduation that has been held in Lewiston-Auburn. In addition, other programs have been run in two other communities in Area III. Farmington has held two graduations of their own and Skowhegan had 10 WorkReady™ graduates complete their initial program, last May. Currently, two more pilots are getting set to launch in March, in both the Rumford area and Augusta. Funding for these pilots has been made possible by a grant from The Betterment Fund, secured through Maine’s Department of Education and Dyer.

[Lewiston Adult Ed Director, Rob Callahan greets graduates, partners and employers]

Since its first pilot offering in Lewiston, in May, 2006, the program has fanned out and currently, programs are being planned, by Maine’s three other workforce boards. The program now has a statewide steering committee, chaired by Dyer, with representation from all four workforce boards in Maine, as well as Adult Ed, the Maine Department of Corrections, the Maine Community College system, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., Maine Department of Labor, as well as the superintendent of schools, from MSAD 75, Mike Wilhelm.

While it is tempting to continue on, in an effort to impress, trumpeting the broad-based support that has been developed, including the support, both in-kind and with financial contributions coming from the business community and the United Way, in Androscoggin County, I think one of the graduates sums up the program best.

Each one of the graduates prepared a work portfolio, which is viewed on graduation day, by members of our employer advisory team, which consists of 25 local employers. Graduates include representative material, which speaks to their capacity and abilities to be the kind of employee that these area businesses will want to hire. An aspect of the portfolio, is reflections from each graduate, on what WorkReady™ means to them. I include part of one of our recent graduate’s reflections about what WorkReady™ has meant for her:

"WorkReady has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. For several years, I have been struggling to find direction in my life. Through this wonderful program, I’ve been able to reflect on and figure out why I haven’t been able to achieve success in my life.

WorkReady has helped me to figure out I want to work with others, helping them to find direction and success in their lives.

I will never forget all the wonderful supportive people I’ve met, who have helped make this a reality in my own life. This program has changed me and helped me to find myself again.

Thank you for making this program available and giving me the opportunity to be part of it.”

Obviously, for this individual and many others like her, WorkReady™ is making a difference. While the program is making a difference and also, helping to address the workforce training needs that Maine must continue to focus on, if it hopes to grow its economy, funding continues to be an issue.

In closing, all 10 of these graduates, along with three other candidates, will embark on a four-week Next Steps training, beginning Monday, February 25th, at Central Maine Community College. Next Steps is a skill-specific training, which piggy-backs on the soft skills training of WorkReady™. This four-week training, Essentials of Customer Service, was designed to target specific needs of area employers in Lewiston-Auburn. With several large companies, such as TD Banknorth, LL Bean, CitiStreet, Oxford Networks and others, the need for customer service skills, as well as workplace computer literacy is tantamount to the success of our region’s workforce. It is another example of how the Central/Western Maine Workforce Board and its partners are providing practical solutions in developing a skilled regional workforce.

[WorkReady's happy graduates]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Biddeford mill bucks textile trend

- [The WestPoint Home mill, in Biddeford (Press Herald Photo-Doug Jones)]-

Maine has a rich heritage that’s tied to textiles. At one time, mills manufacturing textiles were one of the state’s key industries, abundant along Maine’s rivers and waterways.

Biddeford, much like Lewiston and Waterville to the north, were thriving textile centers. In Lewiston, the Bates Mill turned out products and provided incomes that supported countless families, many whom had immigrated to the area, from Canada and elsewhere, to settle along the banks of the Androscoggin River.

To the south, the Pepperill Mills loomed large along the Saco River, an industrial boundary between the communities of Biddeford and Saco. This textile facility was a key part of this area’s economy for much of the 19th and a good part of the 20th centuries. As the global economy transitioned and moved towards the 21st century, the emphasis moved from quality products and craftsmanship to shareholders and lowering labor to its lowest cost. During the last two or three decades of the previous century, textile manufacturing became the domain of third world countries, where low-wage labor is abundant.

In this morning’s Portland Press Herald, in the business section, there was an article about WestPoint Home (formerly WestPoint Stevens), as they attempt to buck the trend and remain viable in an industry that has all but disappeared from our shores.

After a shaky stretch, which included emerging from bankruptcy in 2005, demand for WestPoint products, including the Vellux blanket has been robust. In fact, Albert Davis, factory manager at the mill said that if orders hold up as forecast, the company will reinstate its second shift early this summer and bring back as many as 80 jobs. These jobs would pay between $12-15 per hour.

Developers, however are concerned that if the mill continues to operate successfully, this could make their attempts at developing the mill and gentrifying the property more difficult.

You can access the Press Herald article, here.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Expanding Maine's workforce

As Maine’s population grows older, employers will have to come to terms with ever-increasing shortages of talent. Some hold the opinion that our state has an abundant pool of labor. It would seem to me that those people aren’t paying attention to demographic trends, or the data coming from various staffing firms, or HR organizations.

This issue will continue to be debated. As I’ve written about before, the challenge becomes, for those of us in workforce development, as well as the employer community, where are we going to find our future workforce, especially when baby boomers retire?

There are a number of groups around the state that are trying to raise awareness about the benefits offered by Maine’s disability community. Recently, I became aware of a group that is championing those benefits. Working Together is coalition of Maine businesses seeking to expand the employment of people with disabilities. Their belief is that this expansion benefits Maine's business community, as well as promoting a positive economic future for the state.

I’ve long held the belief that doing the right thing benefits businesses and their bottom line. This particular group recognizes that more and more, Americans prefer socially responsible businesses.

A 2006 study, compiled by the University of Massachusetts/Center for Social Development & Education found that 92 percent of consumers surveyed felt more favorable toward companies that hire individuals with disabilities and 87 percent said they would prefer to give their business to such companies. Among those surveyed, hiring people with disabilities ranked third behind offering health insurance to all employees and protecting the environment as an indicator of a company’s commitment to social justice.

For more information about the many benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities, I encourage you to visit Working Together’s informative website.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Maine Medical Center will partner with Tufts

Maine Medical Center said today it will partner with Tufts University in what hospital officials believe is only the second joint-degree program of its kind in the country.

The new program will allow Tufts medical students to spend their junior year and part of their senior year in rotation at MMC, Abby Greenfield, MMC’s community relations manager, told Mainebiz this morning. The program will graduate 36 students a year -- with 20 spots reserved for Maine students or those with close ties to Maine -- and will begin accepting applications for the fall 2009 school year. MMC will end its affiliation with the University of Vermont College of Medicine in 2011 to make room for the Tufts students, Greenfield said.

The physician training program is designed to attract doctors to Maine, and will include a curriculum to train physicians who intend to work in rural areas. Students will receive a combined degree from Tufts and MMC.
[From Tuesday's The Daily, the daily Mainebiz email drop of pertinent business news]

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

2008 Androscoggin County Chamber awards

There is a great marketing slogan that the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council has adopted, "L-A: It's Happening Here." For those of us that are involved in the commmunity and in particular, have spent time with the area's Chamber of Commerce, we know that this is much more than just a slogan.

The Lewiston-Auburn area is experiencing noticeable growth and expansion. Much of the credit goes to the area businesses that go beyond mere commerce, to actively participate in the act of community that has brought new energy and a sense of vibrancy to these twin cities on either side of the Androscoggin River.

At the Chamber's annual dinner, last Thursday night, a variety of local businesses/individuals received a variety of awards. Below is a partial list, with notes, taken from the dais (and the Lewiston SunJournal). You can access the entire list here.

• Business Leadership Award, smaller company, to Wei Li Chinese Restaurant and owner Cam Lu. Besides running a successful, health-conscious restaurant, Lu was cited for his civic responsibility and fundraising efforts for charities.

• Business Leadership Award, larger company, to WahlcoMetroFlex. Following a management buyout in 2001, the company has grown steadily, transforming itself into a smartly run prosperous business obsessed with quality and customer service. The company is expanding, bringing new vitality to Maine's manufacturing sector.

• Education/Business Partnership Award to Steve Wessler, executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence. Under Wessler's leadership, the center's "community conversations" provide a vehicle for new Somali residents to discuss issues with their native-born neighbors.

• President's Award to Fuel, Fish Bones and Gerry Dennison. To the restaurants for their work in reviving the downtown's image by operating world-class restaurants in renovated, historic buildings. And to Dennison, a state Department of Labor analyst, for his help in growing economic development.

• Ray Geiger Award to Bud Willey, Canteen Services, for his tireless work with the chamber. "I know of no single individual who has so consistently supported the chamber over such a long period of time," said Chip Morrison, chamber president.

Dennison's award was fitting to a longtime public employee and someone who epitomizes the kind of quiet integrity that often gets lost in today's bloodsport of bashing government and public service.

Chip Morrison, Chamber President (and former DOL Commissioner), noted that “this is really a Lifetime Achievement Award”.

The Sun Journal supplement to the Chamber Dinner read, “Even a title that long (referring to Gerry’s MDOL title, which is a long one) cannot begin to describe the enormous contributions Dennison has made to the citizens and economy of Maine, but especially to the Lewiston-Auburn community. With virtually a photographic memory for all the details of government, of economic data, for how government and the economy impact average citizens, Dennison has been a unique resource to the businesses, to local governments, to economic development agencies and to the LA community for more than two decades. A long time Auburn City counselor, Dennison has also been a major force with the Chamber, with the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council, Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, and has served with distinction on a long list of philanthropic interests. Gerry has had a huge impact on the revitalization of LA," Morrison said.”

When he retires this spring, Maine's Department of Labor will lose a key employee and resource and illstrates the loss that occurs when experienced employees leave their positions.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Is Maine's workforce in need of a skills upgrade?

WorkReady™ continues to gain advocates wherever it is offered. Most business leaders recognize that the requisite skills required for success in the workplace are not readily apparent in many jobseekers filling out applications and being granted interviews.

While the WorkReady™ program continues to garner positive reviews from employers in Lewiston/Auburn, where it was originally piloted (and is now being offered for the sixth time), it sometimes is a tougher sell elsewhere. I’m not sure why it is, but here is a scenario I’ve run into occasionally, like a recent conversation I had with a business person in economically depressed Oxford County, where pulp and paper has been the area’s “bread and butter.”

His take on the local workforce was that they didn’t "have any refugees, or immigrants" and that no one in his area needed to learn how to “show up on time and sober for work.” Apparently, his perception of ready-to-work programs is that only the "New Mainer" population, or derelicts, are in need of skills upgrades.

I was sorry to burst this person’s bubble, by letting him in on a little secret—Maine’s workforce isn’t as well-versed in the “soft,” or "applied" skills as he seems to believe that they are. Anyone who has transacted business at a restaurant, a local bank, an area grocery store, or other place of commerce, can relate their own “horror story” of a worker who came up short on the customer service scale. In my opinion, waiting for a sales associate to finish their cell phone conversation, before acknowledging me in the checkout aisle, isn’t award-winning customer service.

The highly respected Conference Board, issued a cautionary tale of their own, when in 2006, they issued a report titled, Are They Really Ready To Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce.

The report clearly delineates what constitues workforce readiness in today's world and issued a report card” on U.S. workplaces. The report was clear—there are definitely deficiencies indicated across the U.S., in the area of essential, basic skills.

Here is a list of the top five skills that respondents indicated would increase in importance over the next five years:

  • Critical thinking/problem solving
  • Information technology application
  • Teamwork/collaboration
  • Creativity/innovation
  • Diversity

Leadership and oral communication were listed sixth and seventh.

Imparting these foundational skills are all key elements in the WorkReady™ curriculum, a curriculum that relied upon the input of local employers during its development.

The skills tied to creativity/innovation are interesting. Daniel Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, states that “the future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind.” These different kinds of people, like storytellers—creative and holistic “right-brain thinkers,”—these types of skills represent a “fault line” between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.

Rather than wallow in the realm of “doom and gloom,” Pink (and the Conference Board report, for that matter) shows us that it's possible to teach the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century world of work. The left-brain, automated typ of stuff, is being off-shored, or continues to occupy the low-wage realm of employment. The economic prosperity that Maine needs to turn its focus towards, is tied to skills that aren’t necessarily being taught, but could be.

If this kind of stuff intrigues you, let me recommend this article, by Mark Prensky. He speaks eloquently to differences in learning and more importantly, communication styles.

For more from the Conference Board and the issue of work skills, visit the website for The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

New Technology + Research and Development =New Jobs

From the Maine Technology Institute (MTI):

Maine Technology Asset Fund: Request for Applications Released

This past November, Maine voters passed a $50 million bond referendum to support research, development and commercialization of new technologies and to generate quality jobs across the state. The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) is administering the new Maine Technology Asset Fund that can be used for capital and infrastructure expenditures, such as laboratories and laboratory equipment supporting research and development leading to commercialization of new products and services in Maine's seven technology sectors.

Universities, nonprofits and businesses may all apply to this fund. Projects involving collaboration are encouraged. This is not a traditional research funding program, but one that rather aims to drive economic development and grow Maine's innovation economy through investments in critical capital projects. Projects that move technologies farthest along the innovation continuum toward commercialization and revenue generation, therefore maximizing economic benefit for Maine, will be the most competitive for this program.

Applications will be reviewed competitively according to five criteria: economic impact, scientific merit, project team and institution, relevance to Maine’s innovation economy and collaboration. To oversee the external review of all applications, MTI is contracting with the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, a respected scientific organization that has worked with over 30 states to implement research and technology commercialization programs. Applicants who move forward to the second phase of review will participate in an interview panel with out-of-state and Maine reviewers.

There will be two rounds of awards, one in 2008 and another in 2009. The MTI Board anticipates approving the first round of awards by September 2008. For the 2008 round, the Notice of Intent to file an application is due electronically at MTI on Monday, March 17, by noon. Late submissions will not be accepted. Paper applications are due at MTI on Thursday, April 17, by 5:00 p.m. Late submissions will not be accepted.

The Request for Applications and Notice of Intent along submission dates and other important information can be found on MTI’s Web site.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"Green Collar" Jobs For Maine?

From The Associated Press (Feb. 2, 2008):

-- When 1,800 workers lost their jobs after a Maytag appliance factory and headquarters closed last year in the small town of Newton, Iowa, a wind turbine blade company saw opportunity _ an available, skilled workforce in the middle of one of America's hardiest wind energy production regions.

TPI Composites Inc. is building a new plant there as the energy industry aims for a cleaner, more sustainable future. With proper incentives, thousands of "green-collar jobs" could be created, from ethanol production to wind turbines and solar panels, and all the maintenance and construction to support them, industry officials said.

TPI used to build boats, but switched to turbines in 2001 for the "major growth opportunity," said Steve Lockard, CEO of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based company. The idea, he said, is to "transform the workforce away from the Maytag-type jobs of the past into jobs that can withstand the test of time going forward."

However, advocates and executives say training is key to making sure the industry has enough skilled workers to make it into a real economic engine, and are pushing for more lucrative tax breaks, much like oil companies already receive, to make it profitable.

Read the rest here (free Washington Post registration required).

The article goes on to say that for technologies to be successful, federal tax credits must be extended and more federal dollars must be targeted for training.

Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association estimates that estimates that by 2030, nearly a half-million new jobs could be created in the wind industry, in manufacturing, construction and operation.

Says Swisher, "These are jobs that are really the backbone of the economy, jobs like roofers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers," he said. "But the federal government is completely asleep at the switch here."