PORTLAND – Even though overall numbers show that Maine’s job picture hasn’t improved in the past year, many companies say they are hiring. But executives say a “skills gap” forces them to recruit and hire workers from out of state because they can’t find qualified applicants locally.

“We have lots of workers on unemployment insurance who have nowhere to go. There is no way they will find employment unless they acquire new kinds of skills,” said John Dorrer, program director at the nonprofit group Jobs for the Future and former director for the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information.

Dorrer said thousands of people collecting unemployment benefits formerly worked in industries such as manufacturing, production, carpentry and construction, jobs in sectors that have been declining for years or were battered by the recession.

In contrast, companies actually hiring in Maine include those in growth industries such as health care, technology and business and professional services.

“Employers are frustrated because they can’t find (employees) with the right skills,” Dorrer said.

The problem may worsen in upcoming years as organizations in growing industries try to hire an increasing number of skilled workers.

Hospitals and other health care sectors are expected to add more than 8,000 jobs by 2018. An additional 2,325 jobs are expected for registered nurses alone, according to the Maine Department of Labor’s most recent estimates, which are based on 2008 data.

Job recruiters, who find qualified workers for employers, say they struggle to find people with the right skills.

David Ciullo said some of his clients have up to 25 positions they are struggling to fill.

“Skill and ability. There lies the underlying problem,” said Ciullo, president of Portland-based consulting and placement firm Career Management Associates, “(Many) individuals don’t have the skills or capacity to fill those positions.”

Many high-demand jobs in Maine require specific post-secondary degrees, such as MRI technicians, dental technicians, nurses and health care practitioners, said Glenn Mills, director at the Center for Workforce Research and Information.

Mills said those types of jobs largely aren’t options for workers who spent decades working in heavy industries.

“You and I can’t go out and get a nursing degree tomorrow,” he said.

It’s a nationwide phenomenon that is particularly pronounced in Maine, Dorrer said.

“We are an aging state (with) slow population and labor force growth. As baby boomers begin in earnest to retire, we have to backfill jobs with qualified people,” he said. “We can’t turn a blind eye and expect to have a good economic recovery.”

Dorrer said state officials and education leaders must improve education programs and communicate the scope of the problem to unemployed workers.

“It’s for this purpose we have career centers and adult education programs and community colleges. We have to ask if our programs are performing to the level that they should,” he said.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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