Friday, December 13, 2013
By MICHAEL E. DUBYAK and JAMES H. PAGE
The June 23 Maine Sunday Telegram front-page article titled "High-tech hopes ... Low-skill reality" seemed to overlook current realities and downplay an important, Maine-based collaborative effort to close a critical skills gap in a science, technology, engineering and math-related field.
Organizers hope that an effort to double the number of computer and information sciences graduates from the University of Maine System helps attract more businesses that seek that talent.
Maine's Project>Login aims to increase Maine's computer and information science workforce capacity. Founded and driven by members of the private sector, it has been embraced by Educate Maine, the University of Maine System faculty and administrators, the governor's office and legislators as well as others in the private sector, including the Maine State Chamber and regional chambers of commerce.
It is designed to meet a current workforce need and to improve Maine's prosperity by offering first-rate professional opportunities to our people.
The Telegram article -- a mixture of state and national data, anecdotal information and projections by national think tanks -- was unnecessarily confusing. Solid facts and good data based on Maine experience portray a healthy future demand for computer and information scientists, and explain the hope and promise of Project>Login.
The spring 2011 Southern Maine Community College Journal of Innovation and Transformation published Charles Lawton's projections concerning the number of associate and bachelor's degrees needed for the various Maine careers. He found the second-largest shortfall -- 977 positions by 2018 -- in the computer and information science field.
Even before that, in 2010, seven CEOs of Maine's larger organizations got together to try to create more jobs in Maine. Our research among just these seven employers found that computer science offers the best job-creation opportunities. So we decided to focus there first, with the understanding that if we can make a difference in this field, we can then focus on other disciplines. Although busy running our respective businesses, we were ready to attack the shortfall.
The University of Maine System chancellor asked to join forces with us. We found that in 2010, the entire university system graduated only 51 students with degrees in computer and information sciences.
We set the goal to double the number of UMS graduates in these fields, and we went to work. Many recognized this talent gap, and more than 50 public- and private-sector volunteers have participated in building Project>Login.
This initiative will certainly help retain Maine's young talent. It is also possible that by developing a critical mass of computer and information services professionals, we will begin to attract other businesses that seek that talent, as this is a national talent gap. So Project>Login may well serve to retain and to attract more talent and opportunity to Maine.
Just this year, Idexx has filled more than 50 computer and information science job openings and still has another 101 openings to fill. While most of WEX's 100 or so contractors are from out of state, its strong preference is to find these people in Maine. Other major employers, including Eastern Maine Health Systems, MaineHealth, Maine Medical Center, TD Bank and Unum, also project significant hiring needs in these disciplines in both the short and long terms.
Following its official launch this spring, Project>Login sponsored campus receptions throughout Maine attended by dozens of computer and information science students and their faculty, along with more than a dozen Maine businesses interested in hiring these students.
Additionally, in three short months this spring, Maine businesses have posted more than 60 paid summer internship opportunities for computer science college students on Project>Login's website.
Finally, the need for this effort is heightened by the "dependency ratio meteorite" projected by Charles Lawton in his column in the same Maine Sunday Telegram ("A demographic meteorite is aimed at Maine").
Lawton describes the alarming and growing disparity in the number of Maine people between ages 19 to 64 compared to those under 18 and over 65. He wisely asks how we expect to support dependent Mainers now and in the future.
This is a call to retain and attract productive workers who contribute to a prosperous economy. These efforts create hope for a more prosperous state. We invite the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and MaineToday Media to join us and help to mitigate the size of the meteorite coming right at us.
Michael E. Dubyak is chairman and CEO of WEX Inc. and chairman of Educate Maine, a business-led education advocacy organization. James H. Page is chancellor of the University of Maine System.