While I was alarmed to see the results of a new report on manufacturing jobs, which said that there is a workforce shortage in Maine and the other New England states, I was pleased to see the attention being given to this important issue by the New England Council.

The good news is that we have the tools and a new opportunity to help address those trends.

With the bipartisan passage and pending implementation of the federal Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, Maine will be focused on aligning workforce investment, education and economic development programs to support a comprehensive, accessible workforce development system that meets the needs of individuals and employers in the labor market.

The Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act emphasizes industry partnerships, working directly with business sectors to address the employer skill requirements. Career pathways are also a key component of the law to ensure that people are being trained for career opportunities, not dead-end jobs.

Industry partnerships and career pathways are complementary to integrated education and training models and “deeper learning,” an intriguing approach to education that uses partnerships connecting high schools to higher education and workplaces, project-based learning combining several subjects, and career and technical training.

Deeper learning integrates academics, career-relevant instruction, support services and real-world, work-based learning experiences that prepare students for college and employment.

In addition to strengthening students’ mastery of core subjects and readiness for continued education, deeper learning models help develop other important skills – such as the ability to think critically, communicate, problem-solve and collaborate in teams – that drive the performance of Maine’s employers. These skills now matter more than ever.

For Maine to be competitive in the modern economy, we need to commit to innovative learning models to ensure more young people are college- and career-ready.

Fred Webber

chair, State Workforce Investment Board