With nearly 70 percent of Mainers fully vaccinated against COVID-19, our state, its people and our economy are full steam ahead on the path of recovery, and the Maine Department of Labor is taking action to help people get jobs, rejoin the workforce and thrive.

We know that good-paying jobs in the trades are going unfilled because employers can’t find skilled workers – jobs in the electrical and plumbing occupations and in construction, manufacturing, health care and life sciences. We also know that more and more businesses are adopting advanced technologies such like automation and artificial intelligence – underscoring the urgency of equipping workers with advanced skills for the jobs of tomorrow. To address this skills gap, the Department of Labor works with hundreds of employers through the Maine Registered Apprenticeship program. Apprentices can learn while they earn, and employers can train their workforce amid rapidly changing technologies.

In Maine, we project that jobs will be growing fastest in areas that require advanced education or specific credentials – like health care practitioners and computer scientists. Many of these jobs pay more than the median wage, allowing Mainers to realize their professional dreams while enjoying our unparalleled quality of life.

That’s one of the reasons that Gov. Mills and I are committed to a new initiative that joins Maine with nine other states to promote a more equitable economic recovery. The National Governors Association Workforce Innovation Network, a nonpartisan learning-and-action collaborative led by the bipartisan National Governors Association and supported by the Cognizant Foundation, is assisting us as we not only get our economy fully back up on its feet but also prepare Maine residents for jobs of the future.

Through this network, Maine – along with nine other states – received grant funding and technical assistance to connect job seekers to work, education, training and other opportunities. The network is a place for incubating bold ideas, sharing knowledge and scaling innovations that will prepare the workforce for a rapidly changing landscape.

Maine is leveraging the Workforce Innovation Network to help the State Workforce Board deploy a multipronged approach to implement the “Grow Local Talent” strategy identified in the Maine’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategic Plan. This approach helps build career ladders that give us more plumbers, mechanics, nurses and carpenters, as well as entrepreneurs who will work in software design, robotics and artificial intelligence. It will align existing systems that can foster the growth of a more competitive economy while supporting equitable and productive workforce participation.

We will coordinate with our workforce partners to engage today’s workers by focusing on career pathways for the jobs in greatest demand, creating credentials of value and better integrating delivery of workforce and essential support services such as child care and transportation. This will include a simple online portal to connect workers to job training programs and employers to services that will help them hire the workers they need to grow and sustain their business, along with building awareness of Maine’s workforce system and have it easily accessible to both workers and employers.

COVID-19 heightened our collective awareness of the challenges many Mainers face in trying to access resources and connect to safe and meaningful work. It underscored the need to deliver skill development programs and training in a more agile way with individuals at the center. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are not only reacting to immediate labor market trends, but also embracing the lessons learned and building for the future.

With the help of the National Governors Association Workforce Innovation Network, we will build an economy that’s better equipped to deal with the challenges of the future – both known and the unpredicted, like COVID-19.

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