Maine’s economy will be hobbled by low levels of academic achievement and work force preparation unless area businesses, schools and politicians work together to invest in internships and improve educational standards, according to the advocacy group America’s Edge.

Maine needs at least 15,000 additional skilled workers for the state to fill jobs of the future, said the group, a national organization of business leaders who support investment in children’s programs as a form of economic development.

The organization held a press conference Tuesday in Portland but failed to provide much specific detail on the jobs of the future or the skills needed.

“Health care and science, tech, engineering and math — the STEM areas — need greater rates of high school graduation and post-secondary education,” said Tony Shivers, deputy director of America’s Edge.

For example, the group said that 16 percent of high school freshmen in Maine fail to graduate in four years. Positions in STEM areas are growing in Maine and 87 percent of those jobs will require more than a high school diploma by 2018, yet only 37 percent of working-age adults in the state have an associate degree or higher, the group said.

In addition to helping students be college-ready and career-prepared, so-called “soft skills” are important to help students get and keep a job. These skills include the abilities to think critically, work collaboratively, solve problems and communicate effectively, the group said.

“The skills gap is all of the above,” said Shivers.

“It’s about shaking people’s hands and looking them in the eye,” added Steve Pound, associate director of work force development for the Cianbro Cos.’s Cianbro Institute.

There are currently several initiatives under way to improve educational attainment in the state.

For example, a bill proposing $11 million in job training initiatives was introduced in March by a special legislative committee focused on closing Maine’s “skills gap.” Meanwhile, Educate Maine, a business-led nonprofit organization, is promoting increased graduation rates and educational initiatives.

While America’s Edge did not announce any new initiatives or statistics or call for any new proposals, it underscored the need for businesses to develop internships and training programs and for schools to improve efforts to teach students core requirements.

“I don’t think we can say this enough. We need to keep the pressure on,” said Chris Hall, chief executive of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the press event.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at jhall@pressherald.com