The need to educate and train the next generations of Maine workers is well established. Our workforce is aging, and employment opportunities call for knowledge and skills beyond our current high school graduation requirements.

Across the state, educators and community members are working to advance local efforts to increase understanding and build connections between public schools and private enterprise to help deepen and broaden the learning experience for students.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is a leader in this work. A unique public-private enterprise, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates was launched in 1993 by the Maine Legislature. Its mission is to identify students who face barriers to education, to guide each one along a successful path toward high school graduation and to continue that guidance through the transition into post-secondary education and initial career development.

The program has been a leader in Maine’s education field in extending the school day and year, articulating proficiency-based learning, integrating “real-world experiences” and providing adult mentors for high school students.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates’ core program is hosted in schools throughout Maine. This program provides Jobs for Maine’s Graduates specialists, who work year-round as mentors and educators.

They teach a hands-on, interactive curriculum that focuses on career development, job attainment and job survival, leadership and team building, communication and time management, and community service learning.

They also continue to provide mentoring through the first year after graduation for the students they serve. This has resulted in a 92 percent graduation rate for students in the program. Fifty-two percent of these students successfully enroll in post-secondary education the year after graduation. Six years after high school graduation, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates students earn 14 percent more than other 22- to 24-year-olds in Maine.

In addition to this core program, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates has entered into partnerships with school districts and educational foundations to develop unique support structures for students.

Working with Portland Public Schools, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates was instrumental in obtaining a multi-year, $5.1 million investment from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. This investment is supporting students in Portland to develop individual pathways to graduation that will include expanded learning opportunities in the community.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates’ support for obtaining this investment and providing organizational leadership, professional consultancy and strategic guidance has been invaluable.

Examples of this expanded learning include a partnership with Maine Medical Center to provide students with experiential learning in the area of medical science; a partnership with the Portland Fire Department to offer firefighting and emergency medical technician courses; the development of an annual continued education and career fair to explore local higher education and workforce opportunities; and growing numbers of job shadowing and internships for our students.

On March 14, more than 500 students from Casco Bay, Deering and Portland high schools attended a “Learn, Live & Earn Expo” that was designed and supported by Jobs for Maine’s Graduates staff. In the coming years, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and Portland Public Schools staff will continue to develop expanded learning opportunities for all students.

Working with RSU 14, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is providing support for students as they prepare for college. The program has partnered with Windham High School and the MELMAC Education Foundation to develop a College and Career Center, coordinated by a Jobs for Maine’s Graduates specialist embedded within the school.

Using the identified best practices from both organizations, this individual is working with students and staff to remove the barriers that prevent students from accessing educational experiences beyond high school.

As the Legislature works to develop the fiscal year 2015 state budget, continued support for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is one way for Maine to demonstrate our commitment to preparing all students for academic and employment success.

As a partner in student achievement and organizational excellence, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is unique in the state. As a partner in expanding school districts’ thinking, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates has unlimited growth potential.

Investing in organizations that have a proven track record supporting our youth in graduating from high school, transitioning to post-secondary education and careers, and developing the skills that prepare them for success in life is an investment that must be made.