There is a Cherokee parable where a grandfather describes a great fight that goes on inside of every person. The grandfather explains that the fight is between two wolves, one representing selfishness and arrogance and the other representing kindness and compassion.

“Which wolf will win?” asks the grandson. “The one we feed,” answers the grandfather.

We are reminded of this parable and the grandfather’s answer when thinking of another struggle taking place inside our state.

It’s a struggle between two economic futures. One future is bleak: Maine as an aging state with limited job opportunities and young Mainers fleeing for greener pastures.

The other is a future of promise and innovation with an increase in good paying jobs and an educated populace prepared to assume those jobs.

As vice president of marketing and community engagement at Martin’s Point Health Care, and as vice president of corporate engagement at the University of Southern Maine, we know which future we must feed. Moreover, we understand to best nourish that future, employers of every size must work hand in hand with universities and colleges across the region and state. Here are a few reasons why.

State universities and colleges provide the primary pipeline for Maine’s workforce. Working closely with employers, such institutions can ensure students have the knowledge and skills to assume jobs that employers need filled.

Students who intern in Maine workplaces readily transition into permanent jobs upon graduation.

University faculty and staff can provide employers with professional development for their employees, and research and planning expertise to help organizations plan for future growth.

At Martin’s Point, we have long partnered with USM and other universities. Through internships and job-shadow opportunities at our health care centers and administrative offices, students have gained valuable hands-on experience. At the same time, opening our doors to students has many benefits for us – providing real-world exposure to health care careers, offering rich and rewarding mentoring experiences for our employees and helping build an experienced pool of potential hires for our organization.

Martin’s Point’s partnership with colleges and universities is hardly unique. Close-knit partnerships between local, state and regional universities and workplaces have existed for years in Maine. But now more than ever, we must all seek to strengthen and expand this partnership with higher education. That’s due in large part to the fact that as we seek to grow, we desperately need college graduates with the skillsets to fill critically new positions.

According to a recent Maine Department of Labor Job Vacancy Survey, there are right now about 1,700 unfilled positions requiring a bachelor’s degree. And according to the department’s “Maine Workforce Outlook 2014-2024,” job gains are primarily expected in health care, social assistance and management – most of which will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. The same report states that jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields are expected to increase in Maine by about 5,400 by 2024.

For USM’s part, we are doing all we can to step up to meet these needs. Under the banner of USM Works for ME, we are building an exciting new collaborative initiative with employers. This includes a new Career and Employment Hub that identifies opportunities for student internships, job-shadows and employment, and matches employers with resources for research and development, executive education and professional development.

It also includes a special focus on first-generation college students; that is, the high percentage of students at USM who are the first in the family to attend college. These students often are less familiar with preparing a resume, how to interview and how to network. USM is piloting a range of programming for these students, including outcome-oriented career advising, pre-internship training, informational interviews, panels and, for those nearing graduation, special programming in professional skills like salary negotiation.

Continuing to build partnerships between workplaces and universities and colleges benefits students and graduates, preparing them to thrive in high-paying jobs right here in Maine. It benefits employers, who won’t have to look out of state to fill key positions, or have growth plans stalled because they can’t fill them.

And it greatly benefits our region and our state as it fuels our economy and our future.

Maine is hungry for a sustainable workforce pipeline – and that’s the future we are going to feed.

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