Finding and keeping good workers is the biggest challenge facing Maine employers, many of whom who are grappling with an unemployment rate under 3 percent and an aging workforce.

What to do?

Three professionals with experience and insight offered their tips and insight at the Oct. 23 Saco-Biddeford Business Breakfast Forum held at People’s Choice Credit Union in Saco.

Charlie Collins, deputy executive director of workforce training at Maine Community College System, has a long history aligning higher education credentials with workforce development, professional education and adult learning; Laura Dolce, executive director, Kennebunk-Kennbunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce, helped spearhead a successful program to attract older workers out of retirement and place them in jobs within coastal Maine’s burgeoning hospitality industry; and Veronica Stover, HR director at Arundel Machine, who oversees programs at the advanced manufacturer for apprentices and other initiatives that invest in its 100 workers.


Here are some takeaways:


• If you’re considering offering part-time work as a way to capture more, and perhaps non-traditional workers, offer consistent scheduling. Also, Coastal Enterprises Inc. suggests this framework for part-time hires:  a living wage ($15-$17 per hour), some basic benefits and opportunities for growth, said Collins.

• Be creative. For two years, Dolce has helped organize a job fair that targets seniors for the local hospitality industry. The first year there were 13 vendors looking to hire; the second there were 26 and others had to be turned away. Collins advised employers to keep an ear to the ground and solicit feedback on what employees want. One company has had success touting its doggie day care subsidy as a means to recruit and retain workers.

• Consider ways to extend benefits and invest in your workplace. At Arundel Machine, there’s a bonus system for earning paid time off, and the company is finishing an on-site cafeteria that will be staffed to provide meals to workers when they want them.

• Check out credentialing and certificate programs at local community college campuses. Many employers are able to get accelerated training for new hires through these programs. Others offer apprenticeships, which become a conduit for trained, new hires. Collins offered an example of an automotive training class at the Auburn campus where students attend campus classes for eight weeks then  work for pay in a dealership for eight weeks. That rotation repeats, and the students’ pay increases with each rotation. At the end of the class, they have learned a trade, taken on little or no student debt and have a job waiting for them.

• Figure out ways to keep workers engaged. Stover said Arundel Machine offers cross-training opportunities to its 100-person workforce, so they are always learning and expanding their skill set. Celebrate company successes and ask individuals to share their personal success stories.

• Urge policy makers and politicians to prioritize issues like public transportation and affordable, workforce housing to help solve the on-going labor crunch. As an example, Dolce noted that local bus service runs from her area to Biddeford primarily to benefit seniors who want to shop there, but there’s nothing comparable for shuttling workers from more affordable housing options inland to jobs on the coast.

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