May 21, 2013

House OKs bill to plug 'skills gap'

But the $9.4 million cost may make it difficult for the Senate to approve the work initiatives proposal.

State House Bureau

AUGUSTA - The House voted unanimously Monday to pass a bill aimed at addressing Maine's "skills gap" by developing the state's work force with job-training initiatives.

L.D. 90, sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, would establish a uniform credit-transfer system between the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, reduce waiting lists for popular community college programs, provide financial assistance to adults who went to college but didn't earn degrees, and establish a worker-training system between businesses and community colleges.

"This is about an investment in Maine's future," Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, a member of the Legislature's Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future, said in a prepared statement. "We're investing in our workers, we're investing in our businesses, we're investing in our infrastructure so there will be more opportunity in Maine."

The bill would cost nearly $9.4 million over four years, $5 million of which would come in the next two budget years. About half of the four-year total, just over $4.7 million, would go to the community college system.

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette said the cost could make the bill difficult to pass.

The 138-0 vote in the House sent the bill to the Senate for approval. It can take effect only if the Legislature's Appropriations Committee can fund it in the next two-year budget, which begins July 1.

The bill is supported by a broad coalition that includes the university and community college systems, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine AFL-CIO, a coalition of labor unions.

Democrats and Republicans have often cited a study from Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, saying 4,000 high-wage jobs will go unfilled over 10 years in Maine because workers' skills don't match up with the jobs available.

Even though the parties agree, Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is skeptical of the skills gap's existence. He told the Portland Press Herald in January that companies nationwide are asking for changes in the educational system to compensate for their lack of investment in training and employees' development.


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