Maine faces a serious workforce crisis. The numbers are stark: Right now, there are about 1,600 good-paying skilled jobs in Maine that stand vacant, because employers can’t find qualified applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Looking forward, it is estimated that by 2025, Maine employers will need 158,000 additional workers with a postsecondary degree or credential.

This workforce crisis is stifling economic growth, preventing employers from growing their businesses and pushing our children out of state. The shortfall even threatens our health care, as Maine will soon be facing a shortfall of 3,200 nurses.

The good news is that we can tackle this crisis by passing Question 4 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Question 4 is an investment in all seven Maine public universities to support workforce initiatives, as well as related infrastructure improvements essential to student success and Maine’s economic growth.

The workforce initiatives that would be undertaken if Question 4 passes will help ensure that our Maine graduates are ready to assume good-paying jobs where Maine employers need employees. It will also significantly address the nursing shortage.

If Question 4 passes, each public university in Maine has planned investments to address workforce needs. At USM, we have identified three priority areas for Question 4 investments:

Perhaps nothing is more important to address than the potentially catastrophic nursing shortage in Maine. This is a looming health crisis, and the entire University of Maine System recently put forth a statewide plan to address it. Much of that plan depends on the passage of Question 4.

If Question 4 passes, our plan is to build out a four-bed high fidelity simulation center, enabling USM to graduate 250 more nurses every five years. We are also looking at the expansion of nursing on our Lewiston/Auburn campus and investing in new online graduate degree programs in nursing.

Engineering, computer sciences, cybersecurity and technology are all fields where Maine employers are poised for substantial growth – if they can find college graduates to fill the positions. Right now, they can’t. Moreover, jobs in these fields are expected to increase in Maine by another 5,400 by 2024.

If Question 4 passes, USM will create new computer classrooms and a new engineering lab, enabling USM to expand its electrical engineering program to include software engineering, as well as to introduce the first industrial engineering program in Maine. We will also graduate more majors in the computer sciences.

If Question 4 passes, we plan to invest in a Career & Student Success Center. The center would be anchored by our Career and Employment Hub, which works closely with Maine employers to match their workforce needs with our students and graduates. Last year alone, the Hub’s efforts resulted in over 1,400 USM student internships in area workplaces. Because internships often lead to full-time jobs after graduation, the Hub’s work is highly valued by employers and our students alike.

The new Career and Student Success Center would build on the Hub’s success, adding new spaces for employers to recruit and interview students, while housing under one roof additional student services such as veteran support, financial aid and advising.

When you combine USM’s planned investments with those of our sister universities, Question 4 would benefit our students, who can secure good-paying 21st-century jobs here in Maine, while benefiting employers, who need qualified and skilled professionals to fill these jobs necessary to grow. It would also address our impending nursing crisis, fuel our economy and better prepare Maine for the decades ahead.

In these times when our political parties agree on little, strong bipartisan unity exists on Question 4. Both parties overwhelmingly approved placing Question 4 on the ballot for your approval. Gov. LePage is a big advocate, as are large and small employers, hospitals, community leaders and students and their families wanting to stay and work in Maine. For the sake of their future and our state’s, we’re hoping you will support Question 4, too.