PORTLAND – The recent article “Augusta emphasis: Skills gap education” (Dec. 7) discusses the need for partnerships and collaborations between employers and the education system as a way to address the skills gap.
Maine policymakers are correct to consider an approach that supports partnerships and collaborations as the right way to address the skills gap. This approach can be — and currently is — utilized by those in Maine’s health care sector.
Maine’s health care sector provides great opportunities for employment. During the last decade, it has been a driver for employment growth in Maine, significantly outperforming all other sectors combined.
According to “Maine’s Health Sector and Workforce — Statistics, Trends, Projections,” presented by the Maine Department of Labor Center for Workforce Research and Information, that growth rate is expected to continue to be among the highest of all sectors, with 7,500 new jobs expected by 2018.
This figure does not take into consideration the increased demand for health care that will result from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the impact of that demand on the health work force.
New jobs represent only part of the need that employers face. Most of the demand for health care workers over the next 10 years will be to replace more than 10,000 current workers who will be retiring or leaving their current employment. Combining new jobs with openings created by retirements and resignations, the total number of projected job openings will be more than 17,000.
The Maine Legislature has been aware of the need to address the issues confronting the health sector and, in 2005, it established the Maine Health Workforce Forum to focus on the state’s current and projected health work force needs.
It is an independent, public-private employer-led consortium of health and long-term care employers; health professionals; private foundations; educators from all levels; the Maine Department of Labor; the Maine Department of Health and Human Services; the Maine Department of Education, and others interested in addressing Maine’s health work force needs.
Currently, the Maine Health Workforce Forum is funded as part of a $4.9 million U.S. Department of Labor American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to the Maine Department of Labor. The purpose of the grant is to increase the supply and employment of credentialed health care workers in high-demand occupations.
With several months left in the grant, it is clear that this program has been a tremendous success, no matter how you look at it.
More than 800 people have been trained, double the original goal of the grant; more than 260 people have been placed in jobs; wages have gone up, and clinical instructors have been trained to help reduce the bottleneck for clinical placements.
Additionally, there are more than 20 collaborative projects around the state that have brought employers and educators together to address health employer needs.
These projects include:
• A CNA elder care specialist program.
• A two-year nurse apprenticeship program.
• A health information technology pathway for trainees to gain entry-level jobs in the field.
• The establishment of a pharmacy technician program.
• A “train the trainer” program for nurse educators using simulation equipment.
• The establishment of a clinical expansion software program in all of Maine’s nursing schools and most of the state’s hospitals to better coordinate the scheduling of clinical placements for nursing students.
• Training for dental assistants to prepare them for national certification.
The partnerships and relationships that existed through the Maine Health Workforce Forum were a major factor in Maine’s receiving this grant and its success in surpassing all of its original goals.
These efforts were further supported and developed through the various training initiatives and projects of the grant that brought educators together with employers. Maintaining and strengthening partnerships between employers, education and work force sectors was, in fact, an objective of the grant.
The issues facing Maine’s health work force sector are varied and complex, but health care jobs are good jobs for Maine people. An approach that continues to build on and support existing collaborations and partnerships and that helps foster efforts to share information and knowledge should be a goal for any work force initiatives undertaken by the state.
Sally Sutton is a senior policy analyst at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. She provides staff support to the Maine Health Workforce Forum.