There has been a lot of public discussion this summer over the workforce crisis looming at Maine’s doorstep.

Without question, Maine’s skills gap – the differences between the jobs available in Maine’s current and future workforce and the employees trained to take over these jobs – is one of the largest concerns of Maine employers. It’s a problem across all sectors – from fishing industries to manufacturing, hospitality, health care and many others.

In fact, in the 2018 edition of the “Making Maine Work” report, responses from more than 1,000 Maine employers tell us that the top two factors that support business retention are Maine’s quality of life and the quality of our workforce. Yet, at the same time, when the same employers tell us their top 10 concerns, No. 2 is the availability of professional workers, No. 4 is the availability of skilled technical workers and No. 5 is the availability of entry-level workers.

Those challenges explain Educate Maine’s motivation for partnering with other statewide leaders. Educate Maine, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Development Foundation, the Finance Authority of Maine, the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System are leading an education and workforce initiative called MaineSpark. Powered by more than 100 coalition partners including businesses, schools and universities, nonprofits and foundations, and government agencies, MaineSpark aims to implement solutions to fix our skills gap.

MaineSpark’s goal is that, by 2025, 60 percent of Mainers will hold post-secondary credentials of value that position them and their families for success in the current and future economies. Currently, 46 percent of Maine adults hold a credential of value, which is up 4 percentage points since MaineSpark started our work together two years ago. But to close the gap, we need to quicken the pace of progress and redouble our efforts.

And there are so many reasons to commit ourselves to this purpose: We know that 95 percent of all American jobs created since 2000 have gone to people with college degrees or other post-secondary credentials. Meanwhile, college graduates earn an average of about 56 percent more ($20,000 annually) than their peers with only high school diplomas, and this pay gap continues to grow.

In order to seize the excellent employment opportunities available in the coming years, Maine needs 158,000 more workers educated and credentialed by 2025.  Filling these positions is critical to ensuring a strong Maine economy.

MaineSpark is engaging this work along four defined, yet linked, tracks.

The first track is Strong Foundation, with the goal that all Maine children start off in the strongest possible position for success in school, thus ensuring a stronger and more highly educated Maine population down the road. This group focused on increasing access and quality to educational opportunities for our youngest learners, from birth through fifth grade.

MaineSpark’s Future Success track is working on providing tools that support middle and high school students in successfully transitioning from high school to their next education and/or career path; promoting career and technical education opportunities, and developing school-based workforce recruitment and education leadership.

MaineSpark’s Adult Promise track is working with adult learners looking to earn post-secondary credentials, change careers or learn a new trade or skill. Adult Promise supports Mainers looking to start or finish a degree or certificate, switch industries or move up in their field by providing information, support and resources.

MaineSpark’s New Opportunities track is working to attract and retain people with degrees and credentials of value for employment in Maine who are not yet living in our state. This group focuses on bringing baby boomers, recent college graduates, Mainers interested in relocating back to their home state, new Mainers, including immigrants and refugees, and other professionals ready to upgrade their quality of life and quality of career here in Maine.

MaineSpark partners know that Maine cannot continue making economic progress without forceful actions on workforce development. This is the challenge of our generation. Working together, we can grow our talent pool to match the needs of our people and our employers. But we must be committed to the urgent goal of preparing all Maine people to succeed in the workforce. Without that commitment, our workforce, our economy and our state will suffer in the years to come.

Comments are not available on this story.