Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is America's problem a lack of jobs?

Over the past few months, it’s become commonplace that if given a sound bite opportunity, politicians—local, state, and most certainly, national—will launch some variation on the theme of job creation. The topic tumbles from their mouths automatically. Apparently they’ve figured out that if subjected to months of double-digit unemployment, Americans will salivate when “jobs” are mentioned—this isn’t a bad thing, but let’s take a closer look, or better, peer forward—by looking backward, to decide whether the lack of jobs is in fact the problem..

None of the following is new information, but from time to time, I think it’s important to revisit—think of it as a recalibration of our workforce/economic development focus.

Back in 2008, just prior to the election of President Obama, Michael Porter, guru of competitiveness at Harvard Business School wrote an article that was published in Newsweek stating that America needed a long-term strategy to ensure our country’s ability to compete economically, on the global stage. He argued convincingly, in my opinion, that the lack of a national economic strategy not dictated by political winds or the latest flavor of the month (my paraphrase) was a major problem for the U.S. and needed to be addressed by the incoming administration.

At the time, Porter indicated that both candidates, Mr. McCain, and the eventual horserace winner, Mr. Obama, were lacking anything resembling a strategy on competiveness. Nothing over the past year handed down from Washington has addressed the points that Porter made regarding coming up with a strategic plan to address competitiveness.

Red flags have been raised over the past two years about the lack of key workforce skills, by The Conference Board, the National Association of Workforce Boards, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to name a few. Their points are clearly delineated by data and labor market information.

Clearly, the jobs that will be in demand when vitality returns to the U.S. economy are comprised of skills that fall within the important middle spectrum of the labor skill set.

Recently, I was sent a link to a report that once again highlights major literacy and skills deficiencies titled, Guide to Adult Education for Work: Transforming Adult Education to Grow a Skilled Workforce.

Produced by the Workforce and Education Policy Group, the report lays out some alarming indicators that fit very well with Porter’s article about competitiveness and, echoing his call to in fact come up with strategy.

Here are a few problem areas highlighted by the report:

  • The U.S. is the only highly-developed democracy where young adults are less likely to have completed high school than the previous generation.
  • Over 1 million young adults drop out of school each year. More than 12 million adults without a high school credential are in the labor force today.
  • At the same time, almost twice as many jobs over the next decade will require a postsecondary credential or college degree, up from 25 percent today to about 45 percent over the next decade.
  • And far too many (93 million) score at lower levels of national assessments of functional literacy skills and are unprepared to enroll in the postsecondary education or job training programs that can prepare them for current and future jobs.

So what to do? Jobs are important and mentioning job creation might help politicians gather some political capital in the short-term, but let’s face the facts. When our economy picks up, and it will, we’re going to struggle to fill existing jobs, once again. Just this morning I was on the phone speaking to the local branch manager of an international staffing firm. She told me that job requests are coming in regularly that she can’t fill—the reason? Most of the current crop of unemployed people can’t pass her basic screening requirements—a demonstration of a stable work history, verifiable references, no criminal history, etc.—basic stuff.

Maybe the issue isn’t jobs, jobs, jobs after all; maybe it’s finding the will to face up to the huge skills gap nationwide, and getting serious in America about being competitive on the global stage once again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ARRA money preventing poverty for many

Rather than focus on talk radio, and other media pundits with ideological axes to grind, Americans should be focused on facts and data to decide whether federal and state policies are working. Let's take a look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

According to new analysis based on Census data, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is keeping large numbers of Americans out of poverty in states across the country. In addition to boosting economic activity and preserving or creating jobs, the recovery act is softening the recession’s impact on poverty by directly lifting family incomes.

The report, produced by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities includes information on 36 states. Maine is one of them, and the data shows that anywhere from 14,000 (lower-bound estimate), to 30,000 (higher-bound estimate) Mainers have been lifted above the poverty line by ARRA funding, with the best estimate being 22,000.

[Thanks to a Twitter feed, courtesy of the Workforce Developments blog for alerting me to the CBPP's report.--JB]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does unemployment make you unemployable?

Yesterday, labor officials and worker advocates from across the U.S. were in Washington, urging quick Congressional action to extend emergency jobless benefits and to renew health insurance subsidies for the long-term jobless.

Prolonged unemployment insurance, passed this year in the stimulus act, expires this month, and an estimated one million workers will see benefits end in January if Congress does not act.

The health subsidies, under which the federal government pays 65 percent of insurance costs under Cobra for up to nine months, have expired and are not available to the newly unemployed.

The continued sputtering of the U.S. economy has made unemployment extensions necessary, as more than 15 millions Americans remain on the roles of unemployment insurance, 36 percent of them now out of work for more than 6 months.

Benefit extensions have been necessary in most cases, given the state of the U.S. job market. However, joblessness and its effects on idled workers, as well as the challenges it presents employers looking to rehire workers who have been out of work for an extended period hasn't been considered as closely as perhaps it should be, in my opinion.Can workers, even those who entered their phase of unemployment with strong work histories, forget how to work, or lose their employment edge? While there may be no choice at this point but to extend benefits for another period of time, is our current system an effective one, given that so many Americans have been out of work for so long? What can be done to ensure that laid off workers are prepared to go back to work?

The last time the U.S. faced extended unemployment, in the 1970s, the shift in the employment paradigm wasn’t as dramatic. For many workers laid off for the first time, the entire process of looking for a job has dramatically changed. Many are lacking technology skills necessary to access online job banks.

Interestingly, during a forum I conducted with employers looking at ways to reintroduce workers back into the workforce, one employer indicated that if given the choice between hiring a worker that has been collecting unemployment insurance, and another equally qualified person that has been working, even in a position that he/she was overqualified for, she would choose the worker who has a recent history of work. This was an interesting perspective. Her point was that the individual on long-term unemployment had developed habits that she felt affecting them negatively and decreased their value to this employer. She appreciated the efforts and savvy of anyone that has found a way to stay employed in this tough economy. Furthermore, she said it indicated a will to work that she felt was lacking in anyone that has been on extended unemployment.

This is a perspective worth considering. How do other employers and/or recruiters view job seekers that lack a recent work history, particularly due to extended unemployment?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tweeking attitudes

It’s easy to end up in a rut and comfortable, even if you’re someone that regularly strives towards self-improvement. Routine and time in a job can inure and insulate in such a way that you become less effective. That’s where self-awareness comes in. Successful people recognize that tendency and take steps to guard against it.

Several weeks ago, I was asked to speak to a group of professionals about reinvention. I have given several presentations on the need for reinvention, so I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t the “slam dunk” I expected, however. Actually, I walked away from my talk realizing that it has been awhile since I have taken a hard look at where I’m at and where I’m headed. I’ve certainly taken some positive steps forward on the physical front in my own life, but the frantic pace of the past three months has left my psychic batteries in need of recharging.

A trip to the library several weeks ago to visit the self-help section put me in touch with writers like Stephen Covey, Po Bronson, and a few others. I also discovered Dr. Gordon Livingston and his wonderful book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now.

While Covey got me refocused on the importance of moving beyond merely striving for excellence to seeing the necessity of fulfillment in life’s journey. Covey talks about “finding your voice and inspiring others to do so.”

In that same vein, Livingston, a psychiatrist, uses short essays to highlight how each one of us, regardless of circumstances, limitations, and setbacks, has the potential to move beyond these things. Things like relationships matter. We have the power to revise our personal narrative.

When Livingston writes, “we are what we do,” he puts happiness in the context of being under our control.

How do you create happiness? According to Livingston, the three components necessary for it are “something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.”

When he touches on, “we are afraid of the wrong things,” he nails American culture in seven words. Our fixation on fright keeps far too many people imprisoned. So much that is valued in our culture is in fact, fatally flawed. Often, fear of failure prevents many people from even trying. Fear is a lousy motivator.

My time away from work over the Thanksgiving break was put to good use.

Being back in the saddle with a renewed focus feels good and has me anticipating a rousing finish for 2009, and limitless possibilities in 2010.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Boots on the ground

On Wednesday of past this week, I went to a conference in Portland focused on diversity issues and their intersection with workforce development. Coordinated by Working Together, a coalition of businesses and organizations intent on finding a way to integrate individuals with disabilities into Maine’s labor pool, the conference was held at USM’s Abromson Center, and was attended by a mix of business people, state officials, representatives from a variety of organizations, as well as non-profit agencies.

During the morning session, John Dorrer, of Maine’s Department of Labor/CWRI gave a presentation on the challenges facing Maine and the nation as our demographic “time bomb”—Maine’s aging population, mainly baby boomers—reaches the age when they’ll be leaving our workforce en masse. This will create a huge gap affecting productivity, economic growth, and U.S. competitiveness. Dorrer cited statistics by economists that indicate that by 2030 that gap of necessary employees and the diversity of skills represented could be as high as 35 million individuals, in the U.S.

Dorrer, an economist by trade talked about the need to address this, and how Maine needed to “get serious” about this. Others, like Martha Antilles, Manpower’s chief diversity officer, spoke to this issue, framing it in global terms, given Manpower’s international corporate focus.

What was lacking in my opinion was an offer of an action plan.

That’s been my experience over the past three years in the trenches of workforce development. By-and-large, recognition that there are problems with both scarcity and skill-level of Maine’s workforce is not an issue. Yes, politicians make the mistake of lauding our state’s workforce, which is still mainly skilled for the state’s 20th century, resource-based economy of manufacturing, paper mills, and wood products. As Maine shifts to a service sector economy, with healthcare growing, jobs in state government, and other business service jobs looking for fulfillment, working for 20 years in a factory environment, or running a paper machine doesn’t easily translate into transferable skills, however. As a result, the transition becomes difficult for many presently out of work.

So how does Maine help people transition from a 20th century skill set, to a 21st century one? Is merely championing four-year degrees going to push the state forward? What happens when displaced workers are told that they need to go to college, but don’t have the academic, study, and other attendant skills that will ensure success in the kind of environment conducive to higher education? Many will stumble and falter, unfortunately.

As I’ve written about before, there needs to be an emphasis on skills characterized as “middle skills.” These entail training beyond the high school level, but don’t necessarily require four-year degree programs. Some of this training can be short-term, conferring a certificate, or credential at its completion.

With all due respect to many good people, talk is cheap. Maine, like many other states have organizations, state agencies, and various hierarchies that crunch numbers, issue reports, and unfortunately, shuffle and/or warehouse elements of the state’s workforce that need to be trained, and ultimately, working. Maine’s large DHHS roles demonstrate this approach, and in my opinion, it’s a terrible waste of human potential, not to mention that it represents a partial solution to the looming labor shortage that Maine will be facing.

There are those in our region that have moved beyond talk, to action. This is due, I believe, to their recognition that workforce development is one of the key elements looking forward towards growing their local/regional economy. Three leaders in Waterville--John Butera/Central Maine Growth Council, Kim Lindlof/Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, and Ken Young/KVCOG—all recognize that if the economy of their city and region is going to be a vibrant one, then having a workforce with the kind of skills that the 21st requires is essential.

While a program like WorkReady won’t solve all of Waterville’s, or Maine’s ongoing issues of workforce development, it is a great first step in pushing the issue forward. It also moves beyond mere recognition of a problem, to finding a solution to it. An action-oriented approach should not be minimized. Far too often, problems are wanting a solution primarily because no action plan is developed.

WorkReady is the kind of foundational program that has been developed primarily to meet the needs of businesses, addressing many of the ongoing problems that HR people and hiring managers regularly encounter in their attempts at hiring new people, particularly for entry, or lower level positions in their firms.

Over the past three years, our workforce board has built a solid coterie of local WorkReady programs in key communities across Central/Western Maine. We’ve developed a model that starts first with a pilot of the program, and then constructs the next steps forward towards building program sustainability. Even better, the WorkReady curriculum has demonstrated that it has the capacity to transform and change lives, while maintaining a cost-effective approach to training.

While originally intended to target those stuck in the “ghetto” of low wage/low skill jobs, with many bouncing from seasonal position, to seasonal position, WorkReady has been successful in helping displaced workers transition by identifying transferable skills, upgrade their technology skills, and better represent their qualities on a resume, and through the interview process. Additionally, WorkReady continues to find new audiences for its training, including recent successes within Maine’s correction system and county jails, including the Somerset County Jail in East Madison. Other programs have been offered at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, and one currently under way at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.


Friday morning, Morning Sentinel reporter, Erin Rhoda's compelling feature article on the WorkReady graduation was a welcome acknowledgement of much of the work I've been involved in to bring WorkReady to its current place in the community. This came about because I left a voicemail for her, and she felt it was newsworthy enough to follow-up with me by phone.

Having a feature article on our program was significant because it validates the efforts that many of us have put into building WorkReady from the ground up, which is how it develops in every location where it ends up being launched. Rhoda’s article was excellent, and really captured the essence about what WorkReady is all about.

Friday was also the day of our third WorkReady graduation in Waterville. This current group of trainees is our largest one in Waterville, with candidates being awarded their WorkReady credential. This group is also a very strong group of future employees for any business that would want to employ them.

For the first time ever, we had a former WorkReady graduate returning to deliver the keynote address to the current group of trainees.

Jeneese LaRouche has taken the training she received last March, and has parlayed that into success for herself. Like many young women in Maine, Jeneese had graduated from high school without a clear career direction for her life. Before she knew it, she was a mother of two, with no firm opportunities on the employment front, and not sure of where to turn to move her life forward.

I first met Jeneese in Skowhegan, at an informational meeting that was held to promote the program and potentially recruit attendees to participate in our upcoming offering of WorkReady. Jeneese was the one person who jumped at the opportunity, and WorkReady has been a springboard for her, putting her on the road to employment success.

Upon graduating last March, she was hired by Global Contact Services (GCS), in Pittsfield. GCS is a customer contact center, working with major clients throughout the U.S. Jeneese was committed to being a success and despite some logistical issues with daycare, and carpooling with her partner to work, she managed to be a model employee. In fact, when the United Way of Mid-Maine wanted to interview a WorkReady graduate for their kick-off video (United Way is the current funder for WorkReady inWaterville), Jeneese agreed and did an outstanding job on camera, representing the program, and demonstrating its success in helping transform her life, and the lives of others. Her employer even agreed to speak on camera about her performance, telling how she had been modeling the qualities that WorkReady imparts in its trainees.

Jeneese delivered an inspirational speech to the graduates on Friday. She encouraged them to take what they’ve learned, and in particular, some of the personalized lessons that Kathleen Lewia, the program’s outstanding facilitator has given them over the past four weeks. Jeneese spoke about the challenges, and also, about the opportunity that she now has, to be a role model for her children, who see their mother going off to work each day, helping to provide for their well-being.

Demostrating that good things come to those who apply the lessons learned in WorkReady, Jeneese was recently offered a position with T-Mobile in Oakland, and it currently going through the company’s eight-week training program. She will be one of T-Mobile’s customer service reps upon completion of the training.

For more information about WorkReady, you can visit the program’s website. You can also contact Jim Baumer, director of business services, for the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board at 207-753-9026.

[Waterville WorkReady graduation photo]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Workforce in the year 2020

Our local workforce investment board has a wonderful and respected member that gets quite animated about how Maine continually fails to do long-range strategic planning when it comes to fiscal matters. I can't say I disagree with him. In addition to fiscal matters, I think our state also is lacking in long-range strategic planning when it comes to its workforce, with a few exceptions.

We have begun an election cycle for governor. We are one year out from having to decide who we want to lead our state for four more years, but I don't think it's too early for the candidates to formulate a strategic vision, and communicate just what their workforce strategy might be during their four (or eight, if chosen for re-election) year tenure.

Unfortunately, not much that is coming out of the mouths of any of the candidates is making me particularly giddy at this point. Experience teaches me that not too much will change over the next 12 months, either.

You see, politicians talk in generalities. They say things like Maine's biggest challenge is "lack of jobs and opportunity." Others indicate that all Maine needs to move from the bottom tier of states, to possibly the middle tier, is "more accountability in Augusta." We hear others blather on about "cut, cut, cut, cut, cut," as if cutting government spending (and taxes) to the bone will magically deliver prosperity. Then, there is the belief held by many that merely running government like a business will lead the Pine Tree State to the economic promised land.

Maine does not have a vaunted work ethic, at least in any greater capacity than the other 49 states of the union; yet we've heard the current governor and members of his administration regularly trumpet this myth for the past eight years. What Maine has is a workforce that was predominantly skilled for an economy that was resource-based, and heavily oriented towards manufacturing--basically, a 20th century mindset towards work. The skills required for success in the 21st century are heavily weighted towards information, and technology. Further, in speaking with employers on a daily basis, I hear them indicate that work ethic, or the basic skills of being able to show up, on time, as scheduled for work, is not a given, at least in the five counties that I travel throughout, in Central/Western Maine. I don't think it's any different in the other 11 counties, represented by the three other LWIBs.

While it might be tempting, given that our unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in August, to think that Maine's workforce will be sufficient for the future. In reality, Maine, like the other 49 states that make up the U.S. will be looking at a labor shortage--projected at 30 million skilled and educated workers over the next thirty years, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, cited in a report funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the face of these numbers, the Foundation has committed to doubling the number of low-income students earning post-secondary degrees, or credentials that hold genuine value--basically leading to employment in a sector where jobs are being created.

Maine can learn some things from this report, which focused on successful programs that had both significant employer involvement, as well as employment connected to a career track.

Additionally, certain common characteristics were apparent in the successful program that were highlighted (see report pages 10-12). Things like flexibility, partnerships, connections to local employers, helping students learn and gain skills while they continued to work, all were important determinants of success.

Some of these same lessons (particularly the value of partnerships, leveraging resources, and connecting with employers) have been learned in Central/Western Maine with WorkReady, Next Steps programs, our recent CNC Precision Manufacturing training at CMCC, as well as other initiatives developed by our LWIB.

Maine's four workforce boards are closely aligned with their regional workforce needs, as well as having "boots on the ground," so they can offer some sense of what's needed for workforce solutions in the short-term, as well as offering a more strategic vision for the future.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gubernatorial candidate Lynne Williams, on Prop 4 (Tabor 2)

Lynne Williams is running for governor as a Green Independent candidate. She is opposed to Proposition 4 on the ballot, also known as Tabor 2. She sees it as problematic in that it takes away local control. Local control is often more direct control, than state control.

Here is a recent video she posted on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Augusta uses free wi-fi to promote downtown

Development Director Michael Duguay said six transmitters were installed to provide a signal throughout the downtown. The city is contracting with RedZone Wireless, of Rockland, to provide the service.

"It's something we should be very, very proud of," Duguay said. "Not many other communities in the United States are doing this."

The city paid about $44,000 to have the system installed and signed a three-year contract for the service, at a cost of $12,000 to $14,000 a year, Duguay said.

Patrick Quigg, who owns the Riverfront BBQ and Grille (one of my favorite stops when in Augusta afterhours) sees this as a boon for his business.

"I've noticed guests that will come in and actually have lunch and then stay another two or three hours, doing work on their laptop," Quigg said. "That's good for business.

You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Workforce development in DC, and the efforts of TWA

The Workforce Alliance is actively engaged in workforce development at the national level, in Washington, DC. Executive Director Andy Van Kleunen shares some of his thoughts about the work that TWA is doing, and discusses some job training programs, including recognizing Maine colleague, Rob Brown and Opportunity Maine's efforts on the green jobs front.

Van Kleunen also talks about initiatives that pull together partnerships with community colleges, as well as the mechanisms (mainly funding) to assist programs designed to retrain displaced workers. He also addresses what he characterizes as negative press about the current administration's use of ARRA funds, and dispels the myth that funds have been used ineffectively in creating job opportunities.

The online newsletter can be found here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Experience can be the teacher of all things

There is an old adage that says if handed lemons, you make lemonade. I take this to mean that you should make the best out of tough situations. Just like Daniel Seddiqui did.

Seddiqui attended USC, and when he graduated in 2005 with a degree in economics, attempted to find a job in his field. Scoring 40 rejections, he decided that since he ran track in college, maybe he could find a coaching assistant’s position, instead.

From a book that had contacts for every college coach in the country for every sport, Seddiqui emailed 18,000 coaches asking for a chance. He received 250 offers. The most attractive one was coaching Cross Country at Northwestern University.

From Seddiqui's website;

I had to move to Chicago, not knowing a soul. I loved the adventure of putting myself into a new environment with complete uncertainty. I failed to mention this was a volunteer position, so I had to find ways to make an income. I found positions from painting stairs to accounting at a biomedical firm. This was a complete thrill because I forced myself to get to meet new people and struggled to make myself satisfied.

After a successful Cross Country season, the program fell apart by every staff member quitting. It was only natural that I didn't stick around, plus I knew there was something else out there for me. I was invited to a small town in Southern Indiana to reunite with the former head coach. This was a trip that I will never forget. I thought transferring from the University of Oregon to USC was a culture shock, but this took the cake. I had my first grilled corn on the cob, saw real Amish folks, 4-wheeling with rednecks, and shot my first gun. I couldn't get enough; I had to see more and seeing more is exactly what I am doing.

Now, it's my job to showcase careers, cultures, and cities.

And that’s exactly what Seddiqui’s done.

I first heard his story this past week when caught a clip on NPR’s Morning Edition. I’ve since done a bit more research about this young man and found this article on the completion of his task.

He completed what he set out to do, which by itself qualifies as a success, but even better, he’s come away from this experience with a much better understanding of people, place, and the cultural differences that make up life in the U.S.

During his yearlong journey of diverse work experiences, Seddiqui accepted jobs that he felt depicted each state’s economy and culture. Hence, while in Maine, he chose to work as a lobsterman, as well as an insurance broker in Connecticut, and a coal miner in West Virginia.

What was Seddiqui’s favorite job? He told NPR’s Renee Montagne that it was being a dietician in Mississippi.

I chose that because it's the most obese state in the country, and would it just be a really fulfilling career just to change people's lives just by educating them how to eat right, be active, motivating them, because I think a lack of motivation has a lot to do with it, along with limited food sources in terms of everything's fried in the South.

While job hopping might not be a pathway to success, neither is occupying the same position, doing the same thing always beneficial, either.

I’ve done a variety of jobs in my work career, entirely on the private side of things until this position came along, working for a nonprofit. Being able to work both blue collar jobs, spending several years in a professional environment, tethered to a cubicle, selling big ticket items on commission, as well as spending several years running my own business, has helped me acquire skills that I might not have, otherwise. Additionally, I have a strong background in grassroots organizing, which aids me in putting together partnerships, an important quality in the work I’m currently engaged in.

It has intrigued me over the past three years how many people I come in contact with who have been doing the same job for the past 10, 15, 20, 25, and even 30 years, including many that have never worked outside of public service, particularly government.

If you graduated from college, and then worked for a government agency for the next 25 years, how much do you really know about the private sector? On the flipside, government agencies, nonprofits, and other community organizations on the public side of the fence do not operate like a private business. I do not mean this in the pejorative way that this often gets framed in debate. I do believe, however that either way, having only one type of experience can be a hindrance.

Often, politicians that have never done anything else in their lives often have a skewered perspective when it comes to work, and in particular, adhering to the bottom line that is the modus operandi of business. It is also disingenuous for a candidate running for public office to trumpet that he or she will run government like a business, no matter what level of private sector experience they bring to the arena.

Seddiqui’s story is an interesting one, and he now plans to write a book about his experiences.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bailey big on felon work-release program in Maine

[Partially culled from an online article by Greg Davis, Sun Media Wire, with my own comments at the end-JB]

F. Lee Bailey, best known for his high-profile legal cases, was in Farmington this morning, speaking to the Farmington Rotary Club at its monthly breakfast. Like his other appearances in Portland and Waterville, speaking on an important and timely topic, this meeting was well-attended, as The Grainery Restaurant was packed.

With ties to Maine including trips to the state during childhood, Bailey is currently serving as a marketing and project development director for Oxford Aviation, which he said is currently looking for a new home at the closing Naval Air Station in Brunswick.

Bailey is advocating an "Amicas" (misspelled by the reporter) or friend-of-the-court system for Maine that is similar to one developed in Minnesota 30 years ago, which has reduced that state's rate of repeating felons from 75 percent to 25 percent, because the program paroles an inmate to the custody of a businessperson, who is motivated to see that the inmate does not fail or reoffend. Other employees in the business are also urged to help make sure the employee succeeds, Bailey said.

I left the house at 5:30 this morning to drive to Farmington to meet Bailey, and hear his presentation. I think Bailey's ideas are sound. It is extremely costly to house a prisoner in Maine (Bailey said $65,000 per year, I think around $45,000 is more accurate) and it makes sense to find a way to cut down on the rate of recidivism, particularly if the program is as effective as he claims it to be, cutting recidivism by 25 percent.

Like most great ideas, the devil's in the details, and the real test is rolling this out first on a pilot basis, building employer support for the program.

Much of the work to create and grow a program in its infancy is a lot like grassroots activism. It's what has been required with WorkReady, and it's one of the reasons the program, now in its third year, has grown from a local pilot in Lewiston, to where it is now a statewide program, recognized by over 50 employers.

Ben Hanstein, a reporter for The Daily Bulldog, a local online newsite in Franklin County penned this article about Bailey's appearance at the Rotary breakfast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WorkReady and other fall workforce activities

Blogging time has been scarce of late. September/October is a time of multiple WorkReady programs. This morning, I was in Waterville, holding an informational session for the program at the library. We had a good group of eight interested folks, and five filled out applications and stayed for the CASAS assessment.

Recruitment has been going well. This is our third time that we've offered the program in Waterville, and it appears that word is getting out and hopefully, we'll have our 12-15 participants that is always our goal, allowing us to maximize training funds.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be leaving the house early to drive 90 miles to East Madison, where I'll help with mock interviews for our second WorkReady program at Somerset County Jail. The county jail populations are a perfect setting for the kinds of work skills that WorkReady provides to trainees.

Unfortunately, employer support for this WorkReady pilot in the jail from area employers has been lukewarm at best. Our mock interview day is one of the key components of the program, particularly since poor interviewing skills (which many of these candidates possess) often prevent accessing employment success. Especially frustrating have been wider appeals made directly to groups like KVHRA, the major human resources association in Mid-Maine. In southern Maine, when the program has been offered at the Maine Correctional Center, HRASM was an eager and willing participant, assisting with mock interviews, and even writing letters of support indicating how impressed they were with the program offered in that location.

Possibly it stems from ignorance, and the lack of understanding that the best way to impede continued criminal behavior is by providing support in the way of a job that pays a decent wage when these individuals leave the jail.

Recently, F. Lee Bailey was in Maine touting a program called Amicus, which seeks to partner jail inmates with employers willing to hire them. It seems to me that there is the potential of partnering, providing work skills for inmates while in jails like the one in Somerset County, and then connecting them with supportive employers upon release. In my opinion, creating tax-paying citizens is a better solution, than continuing to entail the costs of warehousing them in the county jail system.

In addition to these programs, recruitment is ongoing for our Lewiston program, which begins October 19. I'll be holding an informational meeting next week for DHHS/ASPIRE clients. Lewiston is our longest running site, with WorkReady now in its third year in that community.

Additionally, I am part of a subcommittee at the statewide level for the program, planning a train-the-trainer orientation for Adult Education sites that want to offer WorkReady for the first time.

With my remaining spare minutes, I continue to work with the business services staff in Lewiston to coordinate monthly events targeting key business sectors that are informational, and targeted towards jobs seekers, and workers recently affected by layoffs.

I'm hoping to weigh-in at some point about the bevy of gubenatorial candidates, and their job creation/workforce strategies. For political junkies like me, this is an exciting time, as we're a bit more than a year removed from November 2010's election of our next governor.

For others like me, “jonesing” for the horserace to begin, Derek Viger, at The Maine View conducted an entirely “unscientific” online poll last week. The results were interesting and gave a preliminary indication that political neophyte, Bruce Poliquin, may have an organization capable of mobilizing supporters, very important at such an early stage in the game.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The road to success

I happened across this blog post titled, "Unique Service + Hard Work = Opportunity." To me it captures the kind of can-do attitude that Americans used to have in abundance, but unfortunately, it's being bred out of us for a variety of reasons.

Blogger Jeremy Hanks wrote, "A couple days ago, I got a knock on my door, and a guy that was wearing blue rubber gloves was there when I opened it. He said something like: “I lost my job a while back, and got sick of not working, so I’m out providing a service today. I’ll clean out your garbage cans for $10 each, or two for $15. I use a pressure washer and industrial strength bleach and I literally climb inside them and scrub them by hand.”

I hired him on the spot, for two reasons: 1. my garbage cans were nasty; 2. I’d have hired him anyway, because here’s a guy down on his luck making his own. "

What do you think? Would you have hired this guy to clean your garbage cans, and if so, why?

What is it that you have been putting off? How about getting started right now making plans to complete whatever it is that you've been stuck on?

Don't think it's possible? On June 23, I weighed 259 pounds when I got on the scale that morning. This morning, my weight was 223.5, down 35.5 pounds in 12 weeks. I was sick of being fat, so I did something about it.

Here's a few things that I've done, taking positive action (losing weight and getting fit) in my own life.
  • Biked 900 miles
  • Figured out my baseline calories to maintain weight
  • Figured out how much weight I wanted to lose and the calorie limits to doing so
  • Started lifting weights
  • Signed up for The Dempsey Challenge

I've also written two books and am at work on a third one. Writing and publishing is another area that I stopped talking about and started doing.

What needs doing in your own life?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prosperity bypassing younger workers

The AFL-CIO and Working America have just released their report "Young Workers a Lost Decade," which chronicles a less than rosy economic future for workers younger than 35.

Here are some of the findings highlighted in the report:
  • Half of all young workers live on the low-income end of the wage scale, earning less than $30,000 a year.
  • Three quarters of those workers say prices are rising faster than their incomes.
  • Seven out of 10 say they do not have enough money saved to cover just two months of living expenses.
Less than half of the workers in this demographic have paid sick leave—compared to 70 percent of workers who earn more than $30,000 a year. Fourty-four percent have no health insurance at all.

While additional education offers a potential path out the low-income world for many young workers, the rising cost of education, coupled with low-wages, is moving the pursuit of the American dream beyond the reach of many. Some 43 percent of low-income workers say they have put off education or professional development because of the cost, and 54 percent say they are worried about being able to pay for further education.

I'd be interested in reader's thoughts about solutions, and if they think this report paints a realistic picture, or if they think it's findings are slanted ideologically. Obviously, there are those that will posit that since the AFL-CIO had their hand in producing the report, then it's probably skewered towards a pro-union point of view.

The reality for many, however, is that the social contract that once existed in this country has somehow been altered. One would have to be living in cave not to recognize that the long-term job security that once existed for my father's generation, has disappeared.

It's hard to argue against the fact that there is a growing gulf between the haves and have-nots in the U.S., with the healthcare issue factoring into that. There is also the growing perception that this is the case, also. IMHO, this is not a positive development for a country that once prided itself on equal access to prosperity, at least in concept, if not necessarily reality.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day, 2009

Labor Day weekend is upon us, which for most people now signifies the end of summer. This year the thought of summer coming to an end is particularly difficult (for those of us in the northeast) given that June/July were so wet and woeful, and it seems like we never really had a summer, or at least that summer got squished into a two week period in August.

The three, or four day weekend for many is a chance to close up the camp, get in one last summer shindig, or for some, the chance to wrap up, or complete projects around the house.

Labor Day is now a federal holiday, which is always celebrated the first Monday in September. The first official Labor Day celebration took place on September 5, 1882, in New York City, after American Labor leader Peter McGuire witnessed a similar celebration of workers in Toronto, Canada and thought a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

The Canadian event celebrating labor’s role was born from that disputes and strife in that nation connected to the “Nine-hour Movement,” first in Hamilton, and later Toronto. Parades held supporting that initiative and in conjunction with a printer’s strike led to that nation’s celebration of its laboring classes, and it was this event that McGuire originally saw that led to his initiation of the first New York City event.

[Labor Day parade, Buffalo, NY, circa 1900]

Nationwide recognition and Labor Day’s official sanction came in 1894. It was in the aftermath of a particularly violent strike in Chicago, involving the Pullman Palace Car Company, when federal troops were ordered in by President Cleveland to end the strike. The president’s action at federalizing strikebreaking led to the death of two workers at the hands of U.S. deputy marshals, when they fired on protesters, in Kensington, near Chicago.

1894 was an election year, and President Cleveland, fearing additional violence, but more important, looking for an opportunity to appear conciliatory towards labor, sought quick passage of legislation making Labor Day a national holiday. The bill was rushed through Congress where it passed unanimously and signed into law in a mere six days following the end of the Pullman strike.

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, then head of the American Federation of Labor, called Labor Day “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

According to Gallup, only about 1 in 10 Americans belong to a labor union, based upon recent estimates, and about one in six U.S. households include a union member. This is down from the heyday of unions in the 1950s when almost 50 percent of U.S. workers belonged to a union. In that context, it’s not surprising that the labor aspect of Labor Day is no longer emphasized.

As someone who appreciates history, and actually knows some labor history, I’m keenly aware of the gains that workers that came long before my time have extended to me via battle and sacrifice. Sadly, like many other key aspects of our nation’s culture and heritage, they are being scrubbed from memory mainly because students in the schools of today don’t learn about them.

In doing some research online to post my nod to Labor Day, I happened across Bill Stanley’s article for the Norwich Bulletin. I'm guessing that Stanley is a citizen of the "seasoned" variety from some of the personal information that he shares regarding his own labor background. Like many men of his era, he remembers when men (and women) had to physically contend for the things that we all take for granted today.

Labor history isn’t ancient history. It wasn’t that long ago (20 years) that Maine witnessed a particularly contentious strike in the town of Jay, Maine, a strike that still leaves its mark on the community where it occurred.

I still remember my own family being affected by strikes when my father, a paper mill worker, would go out on strike, sometimes for weeks at a time. I can remember as a youngster, lying in bed and hearing my mother and father talking about it and wondering what might happen to us. Would my father go back to work? Would we have enough food? I remember my dad coming home with boxes of groceries that had been provided to striking workers to tide them over until the strike was settled.

Those are just a few of my own memories that I reflect back upon on Labor Day, this year.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Top places to work in Maine

The Maine State Council of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has announced that 31 companies have been named in the fourth annual "Best Places to Work in Maine" program. From this list the first, second and third rankings for small/medium sized company category and large company category will be announced at an awards banquet on October 13, 2009, at the Ramada Conference Center in Lewiston. The awards banquet will include a keynote address from motivational speaker, Jay Wallus.

The 2009 Best Places to Work in Maine program is sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, with endorsing partners that include Best Companies Group, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Employment Times, and Mainebiz, and recognizes companies that have established and consistently fostered outstanding workplace environments.

Some of the companies recognized include Androscoggin Bank of Lewiston, Maine Eyecare Associates of Waterville, T-Mobile, from Oakland, Oxford Networks (Lewiston), and Unum (Portland), to name a few.

Each applicant had to undergo an assessment process, administered by the Best Companies Group, which evaluated each company’s employee policies and procedures as well as responses from the company’s employees. The program marks the most recent step in a long-term initiative to encourage growth and excellence throughout all Maine companies.

Further details about the program, a full list of companies, and additional information about how companies are selected can be found at the “Best Places to Work in Maine” website.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Leadership for ME

Earlier this month, I posted about gubernatorial candidate, Matt Jacobsen. There are several others running for Maine's highest office. While it's still early, I thought I'd put up another post about a Democrat this time, candidate Bruce Poliquin. [Poliquin is actually a Republican, as a commenter has pointed out. Ooops!! I need to keep my parties straight--JB]

Poliquin has several things working in his favor, from my way of thinking. He's bright, has a blog with some worthwhile content, and he was once voted Maine High School Baseball Coach of the Year. As a lifelong baseball freak that carries some weight in my book.

Speaking of blogs, Poliquin has an excellent post on energy policy in Maine, a key determinant of Maine's future vitality and whether businesses in Maine can remain competitive in a global marketplace. Poliquin alludes to something that I've been very aware of, the current administration's fixation on studying a problem, creating reports and studies, and then refusing, or being unable to take steps leading to a clear action plan.

Poliquin had the following to say, from August 25, on the matter:

Governing effectively means making the tough choices that benefit the 1.3 million citizens of Maine. We have a huge opening before us on energy and we need to get moving.

Enough with the planning and studying. We need action and results. An experienced businessman knows that you can plan yourself into bankruptcy if you never act. Likewise, a schooled economist can point out that building out Maine’s power grid and capacity creates a cycle that 1) creates jobs immediately to construct the infrastructure, 2) lowers energy costs, 3) attracts new businesses and jobs because energy costs are lower, 4) lowers the tax burden on individuals by broadening the tax base because there are more businesses in the state.

Infrastructure is only one piece of the puzzle to create jobs in the state.

Poliquin's most recent blog post, from today, takes aim at Governor Baldacci for authorizing the costly use of a helicopter to survey Acadian National Park, where tragedy occurred over the weekend. Maine's second largest newspaper, the Lewiston Sun-Journal took issue with the expense by editorializing that the bill for Baladacci's foray over the seas will be footed by the taxpayers of Maine. And while this trip won't cost a fortune, it has been a difficult year for the state's budget.

Indeed, the state's budget has been out of whack for some time. It's interesting that a governor who finds the solution for the state's budget woes in state furlough days, hiring freezes, and other schemes that negatively impact the citizens of Maine, thinks it's ok to run up needless costs utilizing a helicopter for a tour that has little direct connection to governing the state.

While it's early in the race, I'm intrigued by candidates like Poliquin, who has something to say, and seems to have a clear idea of what's necessary for Maine to move ahead. A change in leadership can't come soon enough for many Mainers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Secretary of Transportation visits AEWC on Monday

Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, visited the Advanced Engineering and Wood Composites Center at UMaine Orono on Monday. As the Industry Liaison for the North Star Alliance, I think this was an important step forward for the center. The AEWC was a lead participant in the writing of the North Star Alliance grant and has been a very important R & D partner in the project. In addition, the support of the Maine Department of Labor and the Governor's office has been incredible as well. Please see the Bangor Daily News article about the Secretary's visit.

The AEWC is a leading research laboratory in composite technology and has developed such innovations has the "bridge-in-a-backpack" technology. I believe this technology is going to take off in the near future and hopefully this visit will spur the federal government to support this technology if it meets national standards. These are light weight arches that can be fabricated on sight, that are harder than steel, though resistant to corrosion, as the article states. This lab has also worked on military applications for high speed boats and ballistic structures that are safer for soldiers,. The AEWC has acted as an incubator for companies and is an important force in the growth of the composites sector in Maine.

The AEWC is an excellent model for the consolidation of education, workforce, economic, and company development in Maine. FMI see the AEWC website for more information about the projects they are working on.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WorkReady in the news again

[I attempted to embed the video that was on the WCSH-6 website, but to no avail. Here at least is the link that takes you to the site and the video. --JB]

The WorkReady program, a 60 hour soft skills training program that originated in Central/Western Maine was featured this morning on WCSH-6, the NBC affiliate in Portland.

This is the second time in the past 6 months that WorkReady has garnered a news feature on the station, indicating that the program is meeting a specific need, particularly given the economic downturn. In particular, WorkReady has proven that it’s a great program for many displaced workers, people who have been working productively, but have lost their jobs, often for the first time ever.

The program featured took place at York Community College, and was coordinated by Jade Arn, under the auspices of Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc., the workforce investment board for York County and the coastal region of Maine.

WorkReady continues to grow, and is now a statewide program. It provides an important component to developing Maine’s workforce, and providing them with the types of skills the employers require.

FMI about WorkReady, visit the program website.

Upcoming programs will be starting in the Central/Western Maine area this fall, in Waterville (at Kennebec Valley Community College), Oct. 13, and in Lewiston, Oct. 19.

Monday, August 10, 2009

September Composites Training Series in Brunswick

The composites industry in Maine could be growing significantly in the near future with companies moving into composite bridge construction and wind blade manufacturing. Composites are manufactured products that use two materials to make a lighter, stronger component when finished. They are used in boat building, marine, aerospace, and industrial applications. Please visit the Maine Composite Alliance to see what Maine companies are doing with composites. In September, the Maine Advanced Technology Center (part of SMCC) in Brunswick will be holding a series of three courses. With generous support from the North Star Alliance, qualified Career Center referrals will not have to pay a cent for these courses (100% tuition assistance). The courses are:
  • Introduction to Composites: September 9-11

  • Introduction to Closed Mold Technology: September 14-16

  • ACMA Certification, CCT-VIP, Review and Exam: September 18-19

Please see descriptions of these courses and more at the MATC website. With these three courses you will walk away with certification as a certified composite technician. If you have any questions about these courses you can contact Deb Mattson, the Director of the MATC or James Westhoff of the North Star Alliance

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reinvention required

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
--Alvin Toffler

I love Toffler’s quote. In a mere 24 words (and 131 characters, so it’s tweetable), he’s defined the crux of the issue facing us as Americans, one decade into the 21st century. Our ability, or subsequent inability to come to terms with learning, unlearning, and relearning is the fulcrum point that determines our success, or lack of success as individuals, organizations, companies, or governments.

As a nation, America is awash in awareness. We know we’re too fat, performing poorly in the classroom, polluting our environment (and getting warmer all the time), and spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter and other computer applications, while neglecting the still essential face time required in personal interaction. We recognize all the faults in others (co-workers, bosses, significant others), but rarely ever scrutinize our own visage in the mirror.

Our awareness keeps us frozen in a perpetual state of crisis because we have the capacity, but lack the ability to take the all-important step towards action. Action is the spark that ignites activity. Otherwise, we remain forever frozen, buffeted by stress and agitation. I know this story very well, because it used to be my own.

I was a card-carrying member of the awareness fraternity. I could spot problems wherever I went. I also knew the solution to most of these. What kept me stuck was the inability, or better, the lack of willingness to take action. Some of that may have been driven by fear.

It’s not that I didn’t have examples of taking action in my life. In many ways, the volunteer work I did as Little League coach, then president of our local league demonstrated a pattern of completion. On the employment side of things, awareness without action was my track record, however.

About seven years ago, I reinvented myself out of necessity. I had hit a wall in my work and personal life and realized I no longer wanted to keep doing the same things over and over again, expecting that somehow, it would be different this time.

In 2004, I stopped talking about writing a book, and I acted on my idea. When Towns Had Teams became a reality, and I won a national award for my efforts. Taking that step and receiving validation was powerful. A year before that, I set a goal of launching a freelance writing career, and went from nothing in print, to having my name bylined in local and regional publications on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve discovered the ongoing empowerment that comes from setting goals, and meeting them. I went from faking it, to making it. That story is what I use to help motivate others to take action in their own lives.

Action is what separates the talkers from the walkers. Spending hours on internet discussion boards, tilting at the windmills (a Don Quixote reference) of taxes, faulty public schools, and whether President Obama is truly an American citizen makes you a talker. You have awareness of a perceived problem. Good for you. The corner where you reside is always crowded, most often with people that agree with you.

Doers, on the other hand, are action people. They’re part of a lonely band that gets up early, long before the sun is up. They’re the ones that write books instead of talking about how, in five years, they’re finally going to get started on their own book. They usually tell you this when the subject of one of your own books is being discussed. Doers don’t whine in the break room that they need to lose weight, while shoveling in another donut. They determine what they need to do—increase exercise, decrease caloric intake—they just “do it,” as Henry Rollins would scream.

Awareness is useless unless it leads to something tangible. It might mean positive change, or on the other hand, action might lead to a negative initial result, if action involves a manager disciplining a wayward report, or a leader demanding more from his/her troops.

The world if filled with great ideas that have never been acted on. It takes little sacrifice and effort to identify the problem. Moving across the chasm to the solution side is what’s needed.

Action people may start out with the awareness crowd, and in fact, awareness is required before action begins. The difference is that those taking action have little desire, or the time, to spend socializing once awareness is reached. They’ve left the party and are off by themselves rolling the ball uphill.

In my current position, I’ve been watching the awareness crowd for the past three years. Most of them are good people. Their intentions are noble; their hearts are often in the right place. Unfortunately, they become paralyzed by their ideas, unable to decide what first step to take. Locked in their room of awareness, they never leave its comfortable confines. They are perpetually cognizant, but rusted in place, like the Tin Man, in the Wizard of Oz.

Toffler was giving us a charge. Learning, unlearning, and relearning require action. Awareness without action leaves us illiterate, and unsuccessful as citizens of the 21st century.

BTW, if you enjoy the posts here at Working in Maine, think about subscribing. It's easy, painless, and that way, you'll receive an email each time new content is added. Just plug your email into the subscribe by email box over on the toolbar on the right, towards the bottom. Your email is only for subscription purposes only.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Maine's next governor

I've been bored driving into work lately. Without a book on CD to listen to (I've been too busy to get to the library), I'm forced to listen to the warmed over slop that passes for radio in Central Maine.

I must have really been bored to tune in a local political show, when I stopped to listen to Ray Richardson and Ted Talbot on WLOB. I wasn't even aware that they were back on in these parts, as sports talk had usurped their political banter earlier this spring.

These two veteran political talkers had Matt Jacobson on as their guest. Jacobson is one of 22 potential candidates in a crowded field that have either formally declared their intentions (Jacobson has already filed papers), or are contemplating runs for governor.

Given Maine's financial woes, lagging economy, aging workforce, and lack of strategic vision forward, one has to question anyone's state of mind for tossing their hat into the ring. Yet, candidate after candidate keeps coming forward claiming that they have the solution to move Maine forward into the 21st century.

Jacobson was talking about job creation this morning during the 10 minutes, or so that I heard (or barely heard, given WLOB's woeful signal in Lewiston) before pulling into the parking lot at the office. Since Jacobson's schtick with Maine & Company has been enticing businesses to locate here from elsewhere, that would make sense for him. According to Jacobson's website, his vision is for Maine "to compete and win in this new economy. We will build strong communities that attract jobs and families, providing choice and opportunity to our workers. We will create an economic climate in Maine that is competitive with other states and the global economy."

It all sounds good, but as they say, "the devil's in the details."

Some of the details are not so enticing, especially for people that labor in the trenches of workforce development and see how difficult it is to reengage Maine's diverse labor force, many whom have not worked in any meaningful capacity for years. Add to that the segment of the labor force that have lost jobs and need new skills to compete, not to mention trying to engage older, seasoned workers into making their ample skills (albeit, sans technology skills) available for as long as possible, and you have a bit more complexity than political talking points usually provide.

It will be interesting to see how the field gets winnowed down between now and November 2010.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer vacation

It always seems that summer in Maine is one of the toughest times to get any business done. Possibly it's because the summer season is short, and people tend to book their vacation time during this period of time, but emails have slowed to a dribble (other than the usual informational types), phones calls await return, and appointments are difficult to schedule.

Do you think productivity diminishes during the summer months? Are projects on hold at your firm, and are you finding it difficult to connect with decisionmakers during June, July, and August?

On a positive note, summer, or not, the business surveys that are part of the initial phase of a three-year project that seeks to develop training and employment opportunities in the growing transportation, distribution, and logistics sector or cluster, are nearly complete.

I'll be heading out to survey the manager of the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport this morning, which will complete my allotment of surveys I've been tasked to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Americans not going it alone

During an economic downturn like our current one, it would seem logical if self-employment trended upward. The notion is that losing a job might provide the spark that someone needs to finally start that business they’ve only dreamed about, or outlined on a cocktail napkin, now sitting in their desk drawer.

In Canada, self employment numbers have been rising for several months. The June statistics show another increase in those seeking their own path to re-employment. The numbers show gains in self-employment of 37,000 in June, while the number of employees in the private sector decreased by 39,000. Since October, self-employment has grown by 1.5%, whereas the number of employees has declined by 3.3% in the private sector and 1.4% in the public sector.

On the other hand, Americans seem to be recoiling from entrepreneurship, and self-employment, at least according to an article written by Scott Shane, in the New York Times.

[Source: Created from data contained in the OECD Factbook 2009. U.S. self-employment rate, 1990-2007.]

We hear so much about Americans and their entreprenurial spriit. Why the sudden lack of courage when it comes to starting down a new path?

One reason Shane posits is the increase in healthcare costs. According to the article, a result of these spiraling expenses is the “inability of new companies to offer health insurance to their employees. The Kauffman Firm Survey, which tracks a sample of new businesses drawn from the 2004 cohort of U.S. start-ups, reports that only 29.5 percent of new employer firms and only 12 percent of all start-ups provide health insurance to their full-time employees.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Charter schools: Why not in Maine?

[I have posted this as a question. I have no "skin in the game" regarding charter schools. I no longer have any children in public school. I regularly see the results of public schools, however, in building training programs for people that didn't acquire the requisite skills when they were in school. This isn't meant to be a slam against educators. I do believe, however that Maine parents should have as much choice in educating their children, as possible.

In 2004, I wrote a lengthy article on schools, and detailed the charter school option, asking similar questions. Five years later, Maine still is one of a handful of U.S. states without charter schools. I remain curious about why this is.--JB]

Charter schools: Why not in Maine?

Maine is one of only ten states that don't permit charter schools. Why is this?

Given that Maine currently is facing an $80 million dollar budget shortfall, with major cuts looming, potentially in education, could charter schools be an option for public education in Maine? Currently, there is a $4.4 billion federal pot of money targeted at education reform. States which limit or prohibit charter schools may be excluded from sharing such funds.

On May 28, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “States will hurt their chance to compete for millions of federal stimulus dollars if they fail to embrace innovations like charter schools.” (Libby Quaid, Associated Press, “Duncan: States could lose out on stimulus cash,” 5/28/09)

Charter schools are voluntary public schools, open to all children without admissions tests. They must be non-religious, and as small non-profit public organizations they are allowed increased flexibility in their operations in return for increased accountability for their students’ academic performance.

Many of these new charter schools, often small public schools, operate on a five-year charter issued by their authorizing agency, a local school board or a Maine university, which monitors and assesses their performance according to specific criteria.

The charter school model encourages innovation and responsiveness to children’s needs. It provides parents with increased choice, particularly if they feel that a public school, conventional or charter, is not meeting their child’s needs. It allows them an option of choosing another public school and the funds will follow that child - but only if charter schools as an option--in Maine, they are not.

Here are ten things you should know about charter schools:

Charter schools are:

  • publicly funded, and are not vouchers for private schools.
  • open to all students.
  • pioneers and innovators in public education.
  • meeting parents' needs.
  • appealing places to work for teachers.
  • committed to improving public education.
  • operated by an exciting array of non-profit groups.
  • playing an important part in school reform.
  • demonstrating a record of student achievement.

[list courtesy of the US Charter Schools website]

If interested in knowing more about charter schools, and efforts in Maine to provide that choice for parents, here is a link to the Maine Association for Charter Schools website.

Here's a good example of the problems that occur when students don't receive a quality high school education.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer movies at MIFF

Like most Mainers, I’m growing tired of waking up each morning to forecasts of rain, and one day of sun out of seven. While it’s a truism that “a little rain must fall,” I think 25 out of the last 37 (or some approximation) is enough!

If it must rain, and Maine’s coastline and sun isn’t an option, then maybe it’s time to focus on movies.

Waterville is set to commence hosting the 12th annual Maine Independent Film Festival (MIFF), which begins Friday, July 10. This yearly film festival has become a Mecca for Maine’s movie lovers, as well as people who travel up to the Mid-Maine area just to take in some or all of the ten days of independent and international cinema.

MIFF is hosted at two unique Waterville venues. The historic Waterville Opera House is a 940 seat theater, built at the turn of the 20th century. If you’ve never visited, you’ll be impressed by its beautiful gold-leaf proscenium, as well as amenities geared to your comfort, like air conditioning, and modern projection equipment to enhance your viewing pleasure. The Opera House will be hosting films and events throughout the festival, including both Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

[Waterville City Hall, circa 1902, home of the city's historic Opera House]

The Railroad Square Cinema, a haven to Mainers who love intelligent, cutting-edge cinema fare, will also be a prime venue for many of the 100 films that will be showing over the 10 days of the festival.

Every year, Waterville becomes Movietown, USA, with its rich variety and diversity of films, as well as Q&A sessions with key figures in the independent film industry. Prior special guests read like veritable who’s who of Hollywood, including John Turturro (2008), Bud Cort (2007), Walter Hill (2006) Ed Harris (2004), and Sissy Spacek (2001).

This year, MIFF will present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Arthur Penn, best known as the director of the iconic Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Penn also has been nominated for both Tony and Oscar awards for masterpieces like Alice’s Restaurant (1970) and The Miracle Worker (1962).

This year’s opening night features the much talked about movie with a Maine gridiron flavor, award-winning filmmaker, Kirk Wolfinger’s The Rivals. This “Friday Night Lights set in Maine” features the epic high school football playoff battle between two very different Maine communities—the gritty mill town of Rumford, pitted against affluent southern coastal burb of Cape Elizabeth.

While this is an all American story, featuring Friday night high school football, a staple of many Maine communities, it’s also a film about Maine and by Mainers. Every cameraman, soundman, the edit team, as well as the mixing for the sound, was done by people living in Maine.

Another highlight at this year’s MIFF is the scheduled unveiling of the highly-anticipated romantic comedy, (500) Days of Summer, which garnered a 2009 Sundance selection.
I saw a preview last weekend and this seems like a winner.

MIFF is a project of the Maine Film Center and is made possible in part by generous support of Bangor Savings Bank, Colby College, and Maine Public Broadcasting.

FMI about the festival, contact Festival Directors Ken Eisen at (207)872-5111, or Shannon Haines at (207)680-2055.

I’m forced to miss the opening weekend to attend a wedding, but I plan to hit one of the weeknights next week, and take in a day’s worth next weekend, on Saturday. I encourage others to visit downtown Waterville.

Additional information about the city can be found at the Waterville Main Street website, as well as the Mid-Maine Chamber’s site. If you want to experience a unique dining treat that you won’t find anywhere else in the Pine Tree State, check out the authentic Southern cuisine of the Freedom CafĂ©. Check their website for the nights they're open for business.

You can also read my take on last year's MIFF, here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The lost art of reading

With others reading less and engaging more with social media, my early summer experience has been just the opposite. During my non-work hours, I’m trying to limit my time with technology and pursue old-fashioned activities like writing and reading. In fact, my current book of choice is close to 1,000 pages, with an additional 96 pages of endnotes. I've blogged a bit about the community read taking place that I've decided to participate in, over at my personal blog devoted to my writing/publishing interests.

Summer has more often than not been a time when I’ve tried to engage with books. From my youth, when the season was about reading books and getting my summer reading card punched at my local library in Lisbon Falls, to a couple of summers of unemployment/under-employment where I made use of my time to pour through some weighty works (Lewis Mumford’s Culture of Cities, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion to name just two). Even full-time work hasn’t made reading impossible, as I read David James Duncan’s sprawling novel, The Brothers K, last July, over a long weekend at Shagg Pond, all 741 pages of it.

I recall former governor Angus King, a few years ago promoting turning off the television for a week, saying that “readers are leaders.” Sadly, I’ve found far too many supposed leaders lacking on the reading front.

Technology is great, and has its place, but there is still a place in my opinion, for communication that exceeds 140 characters.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A little workforce history lesson

I spent much of the past two days participating in this year’s Maine Adult Education Conference, titled, “At Work for Me” at Colby College, in Waterville.

One of the elements of this year’s conference was a WorkReady™ strand, or focus. On Thursday, I was one of the presenters of “Connecting WorkReady™ to the Businesses in Your Community,” which highlighted successful public/private partnerships that I’ve been part of in Central/Western Maine, in building partnerships that have developed as a result of this program. Many of these initially developed as a result of WorkReady™ have also facilitated relationships that have supported summer youth programs funding by Recovery & Reinvestment Act money, as well as contributed to training programs for New Mainers, as well as precision manufacturing to name but two.

Wednesday, I sat in on a breakout that was done by Bryant Hoffman, our WIB's (or "LWIB) executive director. This was one of four regional meetings that helped to emphasize the collaboration that exists, as well as the historical context connected with the Workforce Investment Act, and the mandated partnership established between the workforce boards and adult education providers.

More than a mandated partnership however, adult education has been an eager and willing partner in delivering the curriculum portion of WorkReady™. Additionally, other connections have been fostered between our workforce board, various adult education partners, the private sector, and the community college system.

In returning to the history of Maine’s WorkReady™ Credential, it was actually “born back in January 2004 as a result of a U.S. Department of Labor grant through the Employment & Training Administration to the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board.

In 2005, several statewide forums (funded by U.S. DOL) were conducted by Melanie Arthur to explore collaboration for work readiness and skill development in Maine. At one of these, then state director of Adult Education, Becky Dyer, and Hoffman had a conversation during a break that eventually led to the first meeting that forged the partnership with Adult Education that has served WorkReady™ so well since. This was in April, 2005.

In the spring of 2006, the very first pilot of WorkReady™ was initiated in Lewiston. Twelve participants graduated from that first program with their WorkReady Credential. Since then, six more programs have run, with an additional 78 candidates being certified as “work ready,” upon graduation. Additionally, the program has fanned out and has also run successful programs in Farmington (three times), Waterville (two times), Rumford (two times), Skowhegan (three times), Pittsfield (once), and Augusta (once). All told, more than 170 candidates have received WorkReady™ Credentials in Central/Western Maine.

While launched in Central/Western Maine, all three other LWIB regions in Maine have established programs in their workforce areas.

In Area 4 (Coastal Counties, Inc), WorkReady™ has now been offered at the Maine Correctional Center three times. MSAD 54 (Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Canaan, Cornville, and Mercer) recently facilitated their first jail-based WorkReady™ program, with 10 trainees at the Somerset County Jail receiving credentials signifying that they’d completed WorkReady and were ready and eager to make a contribution to the workforce.

Other states like Florida, Louisiana, and New York have built elaborate top down programs, often endorsed by state leaders. Maine being Maine has had to piece together this particular program with a grassroots orientation. Undeterred, Maine’s workforce boards have leveraged a variety of resources and as a result, WorkReady™ continues to gain momentum, as well as harboring cautious optimism about sustaining this necessary program into the future.