December 7, 2012

Augusta emphasis: Skills gap education

Initiatives to help companies find workers they need appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Hall, with the Portland Chamber, said bridging the skills gap will take more than collaboration between the business and education community.

He cited statistics from the University of Maine showing that nearly three-quarters of the students who enter the science, technology, engineering and math fields don't finish with degrees in those fields.

Despite those challenges, there appears to be broad support for legislation to tackle the issue.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said substantive policy could help Maine pick up its lagging recovery from the recession. Maine has been slower than other states to recover the jobs lost during the recent recession.

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, the House minority leader, said his caucus supports bridging the gap. However, he said, the fact that Democratic leaders are trumpeting such policy is a "perfect example of rhetoric over reality."

Fredette noted that Democrats on the Legislature's budget-writing committee voted against the bill to divert funding to York County Community College.

Former Democratic Rep. Devin Beliveau of Kittery, the bill's sponsor, said Thursday that he was surprised to see his party members vote against it.

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, said Democrats opposed the bill because it made the allocation ongoing rather than subject to legislative approval each year. She noted that the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate after Republicans approved it in committee.

"It was a difference over budgeting procedure, not ideology about improving work force training," Hill said.

Nonetheless, if Democrats introduce a skills-gap bill, it may ultimately need approval from LePage. And it could be the first test of collaboration between the Republican governor and the Democratic-led Legislature.

"It's an important issue that we can solve," Fredette said. "But we're only going to solve it if we put aside the politics."

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:



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