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Maine Development Foundation

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Community colleges are key to shaping Maine’s workforce, economy

Date:

March 16th, 2015

Over the last few years I have heard the same dire messages about Maine’s aging workforce, lack of young people and deficiency of qualified labor for business. Such apprehension is warranted, and there is a lot to be done this year on the part of leaders in business, education and policymaking to address these challenges.

Eastern Maine Community College is prepared to do its part, and there is a lot that this institution, and the entire community college system, can bring to the table.

According to the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, jobs that require a post-secondary credential are expected to produce 60 percent of Maine’s net job growth through 2022. This job growth is concentrated in a handful of sectors: health care, educational services, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality.

With over 30 certificate and degree programs in fields such as health care, early childhood education, business management and hospitality and tourism management, we are preparing students for the jobs that are the present and future of Maine’s economy. Unsurprisingly, 92 percent of the community college system’s graduates land jobs or continue their education at the baccalaureate level; 90 percent of those students with jobs are employed in Maine — leading productive lives and contributing to their communities.

Our graduates are the backbone of Maine’s economy, and without the community college system, that backbone would falter.

The Maine Development Foundation and Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s “Preparing Maine’s Workforce” report, released in November 2014, further cited the availability of a skilled workforce as the single greatest factor among corporate executives in deciding to plan new facilities, relocate or expand. It also advocated for the attainment of a post-secondary credential, stating that average employment for those with associate degrees will see the highest net growth in the next 10 years.

Just the other day one of the Eastern Maine Community College Foundation board members said to me that community colleges are “the new hope and gateway to the middle class.” I concur, but it cannot be so unless business, industry, public and private partners work together to ensure Mainers have access to the education and training they need for employment.

If a skilled workforce is essential for a thriving economy, then each of us needs to have skin in the game. Community colleges are a model for how that is done. At EMCC, we partner with dozens of businesses and industry groups each year to develop an educated workforce for good jobs here in Maine. This includes large organizations like The Jackson Laboratory, where our trainings in teamwork and management help dozens of employees to advance within the lab each year. Partnerships with small business are just as important. Thanks to grant funding through the community college system’s Maine Quality Centers program, and collaboration with the Cooperative Development Institute, EMCC has been able to provide skills training to the 50 new small-business owners of Maine’s largest worker-owned cooperative, the Island Employee Cooperative in Deer Isle and Stonington.

Many of our degree programs come from Maine businesses and EMCC faculty and administration working together to address regional workforce needs. Our Fine Woodworking and Cabinet Making program started off as non-credit and is now a two-year associate degree. Many of our graduates go on to work at companies like Hinckley Yachts in Trenton, which benefit from our supply of skilled carpenters.

Each and every student who comes to Eastern Maine Community College — on our Bangor campus or at a local business — is encouraged to reach for his or her highest academic and professional potential. For our graduates that means becoming some of the best nurses at a local hospital or auto technicians for a local car dealership. It’s also that non-traditional student at long last completing a degree to better support his or her family, or an employee of a Maine business who is advancing his or her skills to get a better wage.

This model isn’t new, and it isn’t particularly complicated, but it takes time, effort and perseverance from all parties. The problems Maine faces with its workforce certainly cannot be solved overnight, or even over the course of a year. But by bringing all resources to the table and relying on partnership models such as those within the community college system, Maine will position its businesses and residents for a more successful future than is currently being forecasted.

Lawrence Barrett, Ed.D., is the sixth and current president of Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

 

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