Question: What’s the secret to success in real estate?

Answer: Location, location, location.

Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Answer: Practice, practice, practice.

Question: What’s the way out of Maine’s economic death spiral?

Answer: Education, education, education.

In many ways, Maine’s challenges seem intractable – an aging population, an inadequately prepared and soon to be shrinking labor force and the fiscal vise that the first two elements have put on the Maine taxpayer.

Question: How can we reverse any of these trends without spending more money we don’t have?

Answer: Formulated thus, we can’t!

But reformulated as, “How can we redirect spending we’re already making?” answers begin to emerge.

The education system – kindergarten to college – must reach out to engage its community in the education process. Education must become more than acquiring knowledge to be used later. It must be both the knowledge itself and examples of how it is used as part of a satisfying life. Educators and employers must become not strangers who meet periodically at graduations but participants in an ongoing process on enculturation. Too many employers whine about the “skills” gap as a technical problem and then cite “basic communication” and “teamwork” as the “skills” both their current workers and job-applicants lack. They need to think about redirecting some of the money they now pay to headhunters toward local educators and ask for “job readiness” finishing programs, programs based on visits to workplaces, job shadowing, internships and employer participation on school curriculum committees.

Similarly, we as a community must stop whining about our inescapable aging “problem” and look at the employment opportunities available in the fastest growing cohort of our population. The 55 to 65 cohort is now too often viewed in the same light as the inadequately prepared high school graduate – suffering from a “skills gap” that takes them off the radar screen in the ceaseless search for the “ideal candidate.” A job readiness finishing school – offering both technical and social instruction – for this cohort would pay enormous dividends in opening up a labor market now perceived as threatening and ageist. It would also offer employers the benefit of years of experience in the workforce, experience that may prove useful in unforeseen ways to open-minded employers.

Finally, this education for the young and education for the older must be accompanied by a third repetition of education for the entrepreneur. The point of this is not to produce a crop of Steve Jobses and Mark Zuckerbergs – any more than the point of teaching English literature is to produce a crop of William Shakespeares and James Joyces. It is, rather, to make the idea of starting and growing a business enterprise (as opposed to the idea of “finding” a job) a part of the fundamental information every Maine citizen possesses as a condition of his basic education. Such knowledge is not just for those who will become entrepreneurs, but also for the rest of the population so they can understand what entrepreneurship means and why it is important to the broader society. It is also intended as a model for how individuals can view their own careers.

The only way out of Maine’s current demographic and fiscal dilemma is to increase the share of our population, whatever its age, committed to lifelong learning. An educationally literate society will be better prepared for the future than a technologically literate society.

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions Inc. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]