AUGUSTA — Business, education and policy leaders on Monday spoke out largely in favor of a work force development bill proposing $11 million in job training initiatives.
“What you have established is a great starting point,” said John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System. “This is critical for us to move forward,” he said on part of the bill that gives the school $4 million to expand enrollment.
LD 90 includes an additional $4.9 million for the Maine Community College System and another $3.2 million for the Department of Labor.
More than a dozen people spoke Monday at a public hearing before the Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future.
LD 90 has a dozen specific initiatives, ranging from additional state appropriations for existing job training programs, to money to create new programs to aid workers.
One new program, at the Department of Labor, would have the department use job and training data to coordinate resources within state government and employers to get a comprehensive picture of the job market.
Several representatives from Maine companies also spoke in favor of the bill.
Highlighting the need for skilled workers, a Pratt & Whitney human resources officer told the committee the company faced “a cliff of employees getting ready to retire,” even as few skilled workers applied for jobs at the jet engine manufacturer in North Berwick.
“One out of 20 applicants have some experience” in manufacturing, said Norman Ouellette. Most applicants have service sector backgrounds, and “those skills don’t translate.”
Pratt & Whitney, he noted, already has aggressive outreach, including internship programs, career development days at high schools and a partnership with higher education to train workers in manufacturing skills.
A Department of Labor spokeswoman, who said the department neither supported nor opposed the bill, noted that most Maine companies are much smaller. Eighty percent of Maine businesses have fewer than 10 employees; 90 percent have fewer than 20 employees.
Fitzsimmons said that’s one reason additional job training funds for the community college system are so important.
“This is a great opportunity to become the training arm of those small businesses,” he said.
The committee has not yet identified how the state would pay for the various initiatives.
But several speakers said the committee had already accomplished two major goals: pulling together various job training programs around the state under one roof, and focusing attention on the need to ramp up job training efforts through greater coordination.
Job training programs have “been lost in several committees and it is all in pieces,” Fitzsimmons said. “You have offered – cohesion.”
Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, co-chairman of the committee, has said the committee does not expect all of the proposals to pass. The bill eventually will have to go to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6638 or at: [email protected]