Maine businesses need to expand in-house training and work closely with educators to create a more skilled workforce, a group that has been analyzing the state’s economic development prospects said Tuesday.

Making Maine Work, primarily a collaboration of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation, said programs for helping workers gain more skills are largely in place, but they should be strengthened and efforts should be made to create more collaboration among businesses and colleges. The group also touted internships and apprenticeships as effective ways to help employees gather the skills employers need.

The report, “Preparing Maine’s Workforce,” is the fifth released by the group. Earlier reports examined barriers to a stronger economy; Maine’s higher education system; early childhood development; and increasing the size of the state’s workforce amid an aging population with low rates of inmigration.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber, said Maine’s economy over the next 20 years will largely rely on the size and quality of the state’s workforce. With studies suggesting that it will be difficult for Maine to attract a significantly larger workforce, that makes improving the quality of the workforce and giving workers more skills of even greater importance.

Christopher Quinn, president of the Maine campuses for Kaplan University, said there’s a disconnect between educators and employers on the quality of today’s college graduates. He said 72 percent of higher-education professionals believe graduates are ready for the workplace, but only 42 percent of employers agree.

“That 30 percent gap is really where the work of our committee lies,” said Quinn, who chairs the chamber’s Workforce Development Committee.

He said part of the gap exists because of the concept of hard skills and soft skills. A trained welder who is both a welder and a problem-solver, Quinn said, is an example of a worker with both kinds of skills that businesses are looking for. A nurse with the ability to communicate effectively is likewise a more valuable employee than one with less-developed communications skills, he said.

The report also said Maine needs a more highly educated workforce. It found that 37 percent of Mainers held a degree beyond high school, but it was more likely to be a two-year associate degree. The percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was below both U.S. and New England figures.

Connors noted that all five of the group’s reports “are related to education to some degree.”

While the state’s economic development will likely be linked toward creating or attracting more workers with college degrees, the report said jobs that require less formal education but more specific skills – often leading to specialized certifications – will also be in demand.

The report said many of the programs that could help improve the workforce are already in place, such as the state’s early college program, which allows high school students to begin earning credits toward a degree. Another example, the report said, is the Maine State Chamber’s program to connect Maine students with internship possibilities, and the Maine Development Foundation has a program that works with employers and workers to continue working toward a college degree.

But the report said more collaborations between such programs, and increased awareness of the opportunities they provide, are needed to create a greater impact on the quality of Maine’s workforce.