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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lessons Learned from Workforce Innovations

As the North Star Alliance Industry Liaison, I participated in the 7th WIRED Academy held in Washington, DC last week. WIRED stands for Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development and is the federal grant that helped establish the North Star Alliance. Their are 39 total regions that have received these grants over three generations. Over the last three and a half year the North Star Alliance has worked hard to bring togther workforce and economic development for the marine trades and composites industry. We have developed many strong partnerships including education (Maine Advanced Technology Center, Marine Systems Training Center, The Landing School, and the Boat School), industry associations (Maine Composites Alliance and Maine Marine Trades Association), and with field staff in economic development and business services (SBDC and DECD). Though, I learned about innovations from some of the other regions that seem to be working even better.

For instance, the Metro Denver Wired region integrated their workforce and economic development professionals at the beginning of the grant. They worked side by side out of the same office and this allowed them to establish very efficient business services for industry. In addition, the decision was made to have liaisons work directly with each specific industry, and all training development was industry led.

A second example comes from Mississippi. To create sustainability this region has created a Steering Committee that has agreed to live on after WIRED is over. This committe includes each major industry, each level of Education (HS, Community College, and 4-year), Economic Development, and the Workforce System. It is the charge of this committee to the lessons from WIRED alive and continue developing these partnership for Mississippi.

Finally, two other important items were developed because of this WIRED Academy. First, 33 or the 39 regions created very informative posters of their regions' successes. You can find all of the posters here. In addition, a white paper was created to be used in educating legislators and others on what we have learned from the WIRED experience. Download the two page paper here.

To quote the white paper, "To build the next generation of prosperity, we need workforce innovation: the integration of education, workforce development and economic development." Through the WIRED project the 39 regions have learned how to connect, how to leverage resources, how to measure outcomes, and how to break boundaries down.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Maine mustard goes to Washington

President Obama likes hamburgers. He also prefers mustard on them.

A Maine mustard maker, recognizing an opportunity to get their product some run outside the state, leveraged their political ties and made a delivery of their Maine-made product to the White House.

Maine Senator Olympia Snowe served as the middleman, shipping over a gift pack of Raye’s Mustard in the wake of the news reports on a burger run by President Obama and the chief executive’s expressed preference for mustard.

Raye's Mustard is made in North America's last authentic stone-ground mustard mill. The mill is owned and operated by Maine Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, and his wife, Karen. Raye formerly served as Snowe's chief of staff.

Kevin and Karen Raye are the fouth generation to own and operate the Eastport-based mill, established in 1900 to supply Maine’s once-thriving sardine industry.

How do you prefer your hamburger? I'm a mustard, relish and ketchup burger connoisseur (with a pickle), myself.

[news source-Bangor Daily News]

Sunday, June 14, 2009

No need to reinvent the wheel

Apparently it takes a celebrity attorney to advance workforce development in Maine. At least that’s the explanation I’ve come up with for why F. Lee Bailey is coming to our fair state to talk about a workforce training program for offenders that’s been successful in Minnesota.

Bailey will be coming to Maine next week and speaking at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast about a program that trains inmates while they are in prison and then places them in jobs with sponsoring companies.

Interestingly, Maine already has a program that’s been test marketed for the past three years with increasing success (and without any celebrity fanfare). It’s called WorkReady™, and I’ve posted numerous times about the program over the past few years on this blog.

While the program wasn’t developed specifically as an inmate job development tool, the program has been offered three times at the Maine Correctional Center, and currently is being offered to 10 residents of the new Somerset County Jail, in Madison.

I’m sure Bailey’s program has merit, but WorkReady™ has proven its mettle and is now time-tested, with over 250 credentialed graduates from the program across the state of Maine, all of them able to demonstrate their work readiness and ability to provide value for Maine employers. In fact, we partner with over 50 various companies across the state, including LL Bean, Cianbro, Manpower, ING, Bonney Staffing, TD Banknorth, as well as other diverse employers.

For the uninitiated, WorkReady™ began as a pilot program in Lewiston, under the watchful eye and care of the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board. Over the past 18 months, the program has expanded from its regional roots and is now offered along Maine’s coast, in the Bangor area, and has even gained a foothold in the far reaches of northern Aroostook County.

Our Somerset County Jail program began May 26 and last week, I participated, along with eight local employers in a day of mock interviews with the 10 trainees enrolled.

Our facilitator for the program, Kathleen Lewia, a veteran of several WorkReady™ programs in Skowhegan, Pittsfield, and Waterville, commented that this group has been the most motivated of any group she’s worked with.

“They’ve been asking me to give them extra homework,” said Lewia.

Given the short-term nature of most sentences in the county jails, WorkReady™ can provide residents with some tangible skills and make a difference, allowing them to leave jail with hope for a better future.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Local Food Movement, Apprenticeship, and young people

I have written a couple of blog posts about the local food movement here in Maine and another article caught my eye this morning. I subscribe to the daily digest and there was an article from the Portland Press Herald by Beth Quimby titled, "College grads flock to farms". She went on to write about how "230 people applied for positions at the 85 farms that participate" in a program where the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association links apprentices with farmers. What a great program to get people interested and trained in a very important and growing sector of Maine's economy.

As the article states, these applicants come from across the nation and right here in Maine to learn about a great way of life. These apprentices actually live rent free and make stipends of between $300 and $800 a month. With the local food movement being in the forefront of the media and several popular books (i.e., Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver), I think this sector will grow to even greater heights (no pun intended). I know my town of Poland is in the midst of developing a local farmer's market for this summer and many other new markets are opening across Maine. I say, let's support this movement as much as we can. As I have written before in this blog, I believe this movement and the agriculture sector are critical to Maine's economic and workforce development for four reasons; the development of regional economies that will make Maine stronger, the industry has a very strong apprenticeship model that can be borrowed from, the independence and safety of our food system, and our own personal health.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Business opportunities, blogging, and writer's lament

With a flurry of activity generated by summer youth programs, Industry Information Tuesdays, booking employers for our newest WorkReady program, taking place at the Somerset County Jail, and an enhanced New Mainers project in Lewiston/Portland funded by a local earmark, there hasn’t been enough free time to post as regularly as I would like.

The key to a vibrant blog is regular posting. Since I maintain two other personal blogs, as well as continuing to work on a series of essays that I hope will be book #3 for me, I sometimes don’t have the energy to put up a blog post at the end of the day that is more than a few lines. I apologize for the drop off here at Working in Maine. A guest post here and there would be nice, as I’m always looking for solid workforce-related content.

A couple of things worth noting, however.

As part of our ongoing efforts here in Lewiston to help job seekers in a tough economy find work, and better, upgrade their skills so they are marketable now, and in the future, we’ve continued our series of Industry Information Tuesdays.

Yesterday, we focused on business services, as well as retail. The thinking was that entrepreneurship and small business are avenues worth exploring for some. Additionally, as much as retail gets beaten up, it does provide a large portion of Maine’s jobs, and there are some clear career pathways within that sector.

I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Dante M. Vespignani, from The Entrepreneur's Source. Vespignani is an advocate for franchise opportunities, and he provides a great service to anyone considering franchising as a way to get into their own business.

According to a follow-up email that I received from Vespignani, a report by FRANdata for the IFA Educational Foundation indicates that the franchising industry's ability to create jobs and produce economic growth is evident.

According to Matthew Shay, IFA president and CEO, the report shows that for every $1 million of lending obtained by franchise small businesses, 34 jobs are created and $3.6 million in annual economic output is realized. Like most other sectors however, “the current credit crunch is constraining this potential growth and slowing economic recovery," said Shay.

Speaking of the credit crunch and tough economy, former Freaky Bean owner, John Stratton, a victim of bankruptcy, which forced him to shutter the former chain, which had locations in Westbrook, Scarborough, and had also purchased two competitor locations in Yarmouth and Falmouth, before going belly up, has landed on his feet and is back in the coffee business.

According to Mainebiz, Stratton has resurfaced and is the general manager of Maddabout Coffee, a new company that for now sells coffee wholesale.

The new company will be called Second Crack LLC, and was registered with Maine's Secretary of State's office on March 26. Stratton says he is not the owner, only the general manager. The company is bankrolled and owned by some former owners of Freaky Bean who wish to remain anonymous, though some are family members, Stratton told Mainebiz.