Maine actually has workforce challenges at both ends of the spectrum. We have job openings with no applicants or no qualified applicants, and we have displaced workers who cannot find a job using their skills, or who find that the low-paying jobs available would leave them too little to support their family after childcare and transportation costs. Too many young people are leaving Maine, instead of coming to Maine for better opportunity. We have to fix the causes.
There are at least three factors at play here which we need to address head-on.
- Maine has lost many middle-income jobs, and they have been partially replaced with lower paying jobs. Spurring creation of more good paying jobs is essential to changing this from the worker’s perspective. More on how to accomplish that below. At the same time, we need to prepare low wage or displaced workers for employment in those better paying jobs, so expansion of the Parents as Scholars program, Competitive Skills Scholarship Program, and others is also needed.
- Some jobs, such as direct care workers, pay too little in part because reimbursement rates for that care are too low, artificially depressing wages. This problem requires policy changes to set appropriate reimbursement rates which should raise wages and attract workers.
- Some jobs require skills that too few people are trained in. This problem requires greater state and industry support of specific community college programs, vocational programs, and making access to these and our universities within the reach of more Maine people.
The top two factors when businesses decide where to locate or expand are sufficient infrastructure and an educated and capable workforce.
Maine is significantly underfunding maintenance and improvement of our infrastructure – roads, bridges, ports, multimodal facilities and broadband. We have to change that both to satisfy business needs and because those construction and technology jobs are also good paying jobs.
A Capable Workforce
Maine has a great work ethic and most people are hard workers if they have good job opportunities. However, in recent years we have slid further from meeting the State’s obligation to fund 55% of K-12 education and have decreased State funding of Community Colleges and Universities, and skills training programs to help low income people obtain better jobs. We have to make adequate state investments in order to prepare people for the changing expectations and skillsets of good paying jobs in Maine.
Spur Job Creation
Maine must invest more in many aspects of Maine’s future economy. We have not invested in Research & Development through bonds in 6 years, leaving Maine far behind our New England neighbors and the rest of the nation in R&D investment.
We must begin to make significant investment in growth of sectors of our economy based on our strengths as a state – our farming, fishing and local foods infrastructure, solar and other renewable energy sources. And we must develop a coordinated plan to make energy efficiency improvements to the 450,000 Maine homes that seriously need them.
Develop An Economic Plan, Including a Comprehensive Energy Strategy
Maine needs a strong vision of a healthy economy built upon our natural advantages and the strengths of Maine workers. Maine needs an economic plan, and a comprehensive energy strategy. In my work on the Government Oversight Committee, I am committed to proposing changes to ensure Maine develops and updates an economic plan for the future. And, because of my personal commitment to the issue, I have been meeting with others to draft a proposed comprehensive energy strategy for our state.