Attracting and training the next generation of workers is Maine’s greatest economic challenge. Questions 4 and 5 on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot address those challenges directly, allowing investment in education in key fields up and down the state. These are the kinds of investments Maine should be making, and the Editorial Board endorses “yes” votes on both questions.

QUESTION 4

Question 4 would provide $49 million for the University of Maine System, spread among all seven universities. It would be the first bond in five years for the university system, which has recently eliminated $82 million in spending and has frozen tuition in six of the last eight years. Keeping the schools affordable would be just one result of the bond.

Most of the money – $25.2 million – would go to the University of Southern Maine campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn. Some of that money would be used to expand the engineering program, supporting existing programs and establishing new ones. USM is also creating a new engineering laboratory as well as a new “employment hub” where students can be matched with employers.

The expansion is part of an effort to train more engineers; about twice the number now being produced through the university system are needed by 2026, and USM plans to double its enrollment in the field.

The same is true of nursing, which is facing a similar shortfall. The bond would pay for a new nursing facility at the Presque Isle campus and simulation machines at USM, part of $12 million aimed at nursing programs.

There are other projects, too, including the consolidation of enrollment, advising and financial aid at the University of Maine at Augusta, which works with many nontraditional, older students at its main campus, online and throughout its satellite locations. Those students are largely returning to school to finish degrees or gain new skills – helping them succeed is a key part of supporting the workforce.

QUESTION 5

Question 5 has many of the same workforce aims, with $15 million that would in part help train new workers through investments at each of the state’s seven community colleges. The bond would help expand industrial trade programs at Kennebec Valley Community College, for instance, and the diesel hydraulics lab at Northern Maine Community College.

In addition to expanding programs, the bond would help pay for upgrading infrastructure to chip away at the $60 million in deferred maintenance that the community college system has identified. Money would go to, among other projects, improving wireless networks and converting heating systems.

The money provided by Questions 4 and 5 would both be matched by public and private funds. The investments in buildings and programs would help attract in-state and out-of-state students to the University of Maine System, and improve courses that produce graduates in much-needed fields. They would allow Mainers to upgrade their skills affordably and conveniently, and help local businesses find talent.

Maine’s workforce deficiencies will occupy the next governor and Legislature. There are no easy answers, but there is no doubt that investments like those in Questions 4 and 5 are part of the solution.