Monday, March 30, 2009

Some Good News In Difficult Times

The daily economic news has not been fun to watch or read in the last few months. Though, what follows is some good news in these difficult economic times. Recently, in the March 2009 edition of the North Star Alliance newsletter there were several items of good news. The North Star Alliance is a WIRED(Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) grant Maine received to help with the economic and workforce development in the boat building, marine trades, and composites clusters of industries.

According to the March newsletter, thanks to funding through the North Star grant 1200 Maine citizens have begun some type of training within this cluster. 700 Maine citizens have been able to complete a certification, degree, or some type of industry recognized credential. These individuals have been both new hires and incumbent workers and this has helped several companies develop new projects or products.

For instance, Harbor Technologies, a Brunswick based company may be hiring as many as 20 new workers on a new contract. Harbor Technologies makes composite docks and harbor pilings. Their new and existing employees have taken classes and participated in On-The-Job Training funded through the Nort Star grant. Click here to see a WCSH-6 story on Harbor Technologies.

I believe the public/private partnerships that have been developed through the North Star grant and WIRED model will continue to help businesses grow and thrive in Maine. We must use this model in other clusters like Energy, Healthcare, Tourism/Hospitality, Precision Manufacturing, andTDL (Transportation, Distribution and Logistics). Click here to learn more about industry clusters.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Check your priorities

Unemployment has hit an 18-year high in Maine, at least that’s what the talking head told me this morning on the television set. Each morning (or evening), the news anchors drone on with their plethora of pitiful news stories—the single mother of eight, who lost her job at the box factory. The millworker who’s been at the same paper machine for 26 years, who lost his job, has no computer skills, and is lamenting why we have computers anyway.

It is depressing as hell, if you buy the vibe they’re selling you that the sky is falling and the world is about to end.

I’m certainly no Pollyanna, willing to put an overly optimistic spin on bad news. Those who know me will certainly attest to that. Yes, the economy has taken a serious downturn, and there are fewer job opportunities than there were a year ago. However, there are employers out there that are hiring people that have the requisite skills that employers value in the 21st century.

There are a good many people currently out of work, not by choice, but because their employer laid them off. There are also segments of the population that are out of work now that were out of work one year ago, when things were booming.

Laurie Ruettimann, at her blog, Punk Rock HR touches on this issue, today.

Good economy, or bad, there seems to be a segment of the population for whom work isn’t either one, or two, in their list of priorities.

Personally, if success is what you are looking to achieve, it needs to be one, or in some rare cases, possibly two. For some, however, it doesn’t even make their top ten! I’m not sure why that is.

I know I’ll get some that will make compelling cases, telling me that their family, or their children, or even their pet hampster are more important than their job. That’s all well and good between you and I, but make sure your employer doesn’t know that.

For those that just got their pink slip, here’s some advice that I hope you’ll heed. You’ve got 26 weeks to take an inventory, retool, and pick up some new skills that employers are looking for. Maybe it’s technology skills you are lacking. Call your local adult ed office and find out when they’re running their next computer class.

Maybe you’ve been working in manufacturing, and by adding some new skills to what you've already got might make you more attractive to precision manufacturers when they start getting orders to restock depleted global inventories.

Our local workforce board is partnering with Central Maine Community College, and the Manufacturers Association of Maine, in offering a 12-week precision manufacturing training program in Lewiston-Auburn that starts May 18.

While this no cost training got quite a bit of attention from job seekers about a month ago, resulting in a flurry of phone calls, that eagerness has mysteriously cooled for some. It's possible that asking candidates to come in as soon as possible to take the assessment exam required for admittance was too much to ask. Certainly, the 11th grade math requirement winnowed the list down for some. However, for those that aren’t quite where they need to be, I’ve arranged for an eight week math and computer prep class for 10-12 candidates. I’m still struggling to fill my other slots.

I recognize that not everyone wants to work in precision manufacturing, but in a down economy, with thousands out of work, it would seem counter intuitive that I’d have to work just as hard on the recruitment side for this program, as well as others, like WorkReady, as I have in the past, when employers were clamoring for good help.

Then again, a case could be made that we’ve made if far too easy for some not to work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rural prosperity

Some rural areas of the U.S. are prospering. According to a new report to USDA Rural Development with the title, "Why Some Rural Communities Prosper While Others Do Not," 300 rural counties, and 200 mixed rural counties are more prosperous than the nation as a whole. Not the kind of news you'll here coming from most media outlets, who now deal exclusively in doom and gloom.

Despite its very utilitarian title, the report is worth reading, and certainly has applications for Maine, and economic development people, and others interested in parts of Maine that aren't Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, and Augusta--basically, something outside the narrow corridor bordering I-95, north and south (see map on page 10 of the report).

I learned about the report courtesy of Jack Schultz, on Twitter this time, instead of the usual blog post. Schultz is someone I've mentioned here before in the context of rural economic growth. Continue to avoid him at your peril.

Jack's now on Twitter, so if that's your cup of tea, you'll find him here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Phone etiquette, please!

On Friday morning, I was once again headed north on I-95, the asphalt corridor that’s become my second home of late. Within the confines of my mobile office, built by Ford, I was making follow-up calls to 12 WorkReady candidates that had been accepted into the 20th such program that I’ve coordinated over the past 30 months.

During this period of time, WorkReady has grown from a small localized pilot, to where it is now recognized across the state, with close to 300 graduates now holding the WorkReady Credential, signifying that they've completed the 60-hour, ready-to-work program.

I regularly place calls to a variety of people, many of them out of work, and hoping to reenter the job market. More often than not, I come away nonplussed in making initial calls to potential WorkReady candidates, following up with someone who has left me a voicemail about about other training opportunities, or in my general day-to-day interactions with people searching for the onramp to success in the job marketplace.

Here is a list of items I’ve encountered this past week that are the norm in my interactions with people that either are, or will be receiving contacts from potential employers:
  • The cell phone voicemail that doesn’t have a message, it just unleashes a blast of music, most often rap, into your tinny cellphone earpiece. I’m not sure who came up with this technique, but listening to 30 seconds, or more, of music that isn't my music genre of choice is a great way to make a negative first impression on me, as well as a potential employer.
  • The cell phone, or home number, answered by someone with, “yo,” a grunt, or some other semi-intelligible greeting. Then, after identifying who I am as the caller, and why I’m calling, the message taker asks, “who are you?” or “what?” requiring a restatement of my information. The kicker is always, “let me get a pencil,” and the interminable wait of 30-45 seconds for them to return. Then, begins the torturous task of repeating your information several times while the semi-literate scribe cobbles together the message that at this point, you know will never get to the party you were attempting to connect with.
  • The number that rings and rings and rings, with no answering machine, or voicemail on the other end. Even worse, the busy signal that indicates, more often than not, a dial-up internet connection.
  • And lastly, the person that you just met, after recruiting them for your program that corrects you for some perceived error that they picked up on. After you explain that the reason why you asked your question about having internet dial-up, was because you attempted to call four times over a two-hour period and received a continuous busy signal. A potential employer might try once, or twice, max! Rather than getting all indignant about some perceived slight, you should be thankful that someone cares enough to tell you that there is a potential problem, before you lose an offer for an interview.

Folks, it’s a very selective job market out there, with many employers postponing hiring decisions entirely, while they wait and see what happens over the next few months. Those employers who are hiring want candidates that at the very least, can pass the “phone test,” before being offered an interview.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Industry Information Tuesdays

The current economic downturn has put a real crimp on employment growth. As many Maine businesses continue the cycle of layoffs that began last fall, it’s not easy staying positive, as well as retaining a strategic workforce focus.

During cycles of peak employment, Maine’s CareerCenters have often played a key role in partnering with businesses, providing support, and other services to the private sector in helping them reach recruitment targets. Given our current downturn, staff and leadership at the Lewiston CareerCenter have recognized that changes were in order. The typical job fairs and recruiting events that have worked in the past are no longer effective.

In light of that, the first of several upcoming Industry Information Tuesdays kicked off today in Lewiston. Today’s informational Tuesday featured precision manufacturing. The focus of these Tuesday sessions is on sectors that will provide key job growth when the economy turns the corner, and begins trending upward.

Manufacturing in Maine, particularly precision manufacturing, is a growth sector, and one that provides above average wages to candidates that have received targeted skills training, through certificate programs, and two-year Associate Degree programs at Maine’s Community Colleges.

This first session in Lewiston attracted 150 participants, including several applicants who took the opportunity to enroll in an upcoming precision manufacturing training program being offered at Central Maine Community College.

FMI about upcoming sector-specific days in Lewiston, as well as a variety of other helpful workshops, you can contact the Lewiston CareerCenter, at 753-9001, or visit their website.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WorkReady featured on WCSH6

FMI on enrolling in the upcoming Waterville WorkReady program featured, contact Mid-Maine Adult Community Education.

If interested in the program elsewhere, you can contact the Central/Western Workforce Investment Board, at 207-753-9026, or visit the Maine Adult Education site, and search under the "find programs" tab for "WorkReady."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

WorkReady featured on WMTW-8's Project Economy

WMTW-8's Danielle Strauss visited the Lewiston CareerCenter this afternoon to do a feature on the WorkReady™ Credential (WRC) program.

Strauss's feature, one of the station's ongoing in a series titled "Project Economy," featured yours truly, and recent graduate, David Fleenor. Fleenor was articulate and spoke about the demanding nature of WorkReady, as well as his plans to enroll in our upcoming 12-week Precision Manufacturing Training, which will be taking place at Central Maine Community College, in May.

The WRC, which originally got its start in Lewiston, continues to grow, and it now being offered at the statewide level.

Our next program will be a regional offering, which will be hosted by Kennebec Valley Community College, starting March 16.

There will be a WRC informational session tomorrow morning at Waterville Public Library, at 10:00 am.

FMI about WorkReady in the Waterville area, contact Adult Education at 207-873-5754. Additional questions about the WorkReady Credential Program can be answered via the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board, at 207-753-9026.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Energy interconnectedness (residential)

[Interesting video about how small changes related to efficiency can be the difference between spending $25, and $3,000. In our current economy that's a significant difference. The video came courtesy of Energy Circle, a collaborative effort by various people from across the country providing an information clearinghouse on energy-related issues, tips, as well as news about ways to make your home more energy efficient. One of the members, Lisa, resides in Maine.--JB]