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.