For the past year, with financial support from the Alfond Foundation, the education leaders of Region 10 Technical High School located in Brunswick have been investigating the feasibility of establishing a comprehensive technical high school at Brunswick Landing.

The feasibility study produced most-encouraging survey results, indicating high interest from potential students and their parents in attending such a school. The proposed school would enroll students on a full-time basis over four years and effectively fuse academic instruction with practical and technical skills training to maximize educational benefits resulting in a high school diploma along with vocational certifications.

Programming would be structured to ensure that graduates are highly qualified to enter the workplace, pursue apprenticeship opportunities and enroll in post-secondary institutions to further their education and training. This new applied learning model would overcome barriers faced by students enrolled under the current structure of the school and would also appeal to many others who are not satisfied with more traditional instructional methods.

Barriers, including the separation of academic course work from skills training; vocational instruction offered to students on a limited basis in their junior and senior years; logistical challenges of transporting and separating students from participating high schools (Brunswick, Mt. Ararat, Freeport) where they receive their academic instruction; and the absence of a full time, four-year commitment to a primary institution, are among shortcomings identified not only by Region 10 educators but also widely acknowledged by secondary vocational educators in Maine.

The Midcoast is confronting formidable challenges of an aging and retiring workforce, persistence of unfilled job openings and scarcity of new labor market entrants. A future comprehensive technical high school offers one solution that will respond to the demands of the regional economy and meet the needs of students in a more responsive manner to produce a more qualified workforce.

Bath, Brunswick, Topsham and Freeport make up one of the most desirable regions in the state of Maine to live in. The region is bookended by two of Maine’s iconic employers, Bath Iron Works and L.L. Bean, which together report over 12,000 jobs with solid prospects for future growth. Brunswick Landing (formerly the Brunswick Naval Air Station) has emerged as a leader in attracting new economic and community enterprises as well as launching startups and innovators shaping the future economy. These enterprises join an impressive array of small manufacturing companies, construction firms and service industries that make up one of the strongest regional economies in the State of Maine. Transportation networks including highways, rail and air travel combined with high- speed internet connections afford area residents convenient commutability and access to world-class economic centers such as Boston and New York.


Despite these advantages, many employers are reporting lost revenue and are canceling plans for business expansion as they are unable to find qualified workers. Another challenge articulated by many of the region’s employers is the inability to find workers with the advanced skill sets required for the jobs being transformed by technology.

The ships now being built at Bath Iron Works include sophisticated electronic and computer systems. The warehouse and order retrieval systems at L.L. Bean are not only complex mechanical systems but also are driven by advanced computer technology and artificial intelligence applications. The region’s auto dealerships are confronting major adaptations as traditional auto power trains are replaced by electric motors, sensors and computer chips. The energy revolution underway means that traditional methods for building and maintaining homes, commercial and public infrastructure will increasingly give way to new technologies for heating, cooling and ventilation driven by computer and artificial intelligence technologies. Our methods of producing and distributing food will also see significant change as greenhouses and aquaculture operations, already a reality in Maine, will become more common with climate change.

These emerging dynamics across the economy will fundamentally alter the traditional occupational landscape. According to the analysts looking toward the future, skills requirements across the spectrum of occupations will go up as the integration of mechanical, computer and artificial intelligence elements will make up job content. Sustaining this positive future and meeting its challenges will require new visions and a willingness to make strategic investments and implement institutional reforms. Ensuring the responsive capacity of our education and training institutions to supply the workforce and prepare a better educated citizenry remains paramount.

Maine has made great strides in its post-secondary education and training systems. The Maine Community College System has responded to the changing economy with relevant degree programs and short-term credentials programs that are highly responsive to employer needs. The University of Maine System is not only educating Maine’s future professional and technical workforce, but also making extraordinary contributions through research and development initiatives helping to create the “next” economy. Innovative efforts such as the Rioux Institute focus on preparing a workforce with high level and specialty technical skills to support emerging sectors. For these efforts to continue to succeed in preparing a high performance, technologically advanced workforce however, they are dependent on the K-12 education system able to graduate students with high levels of competencies and effective preparation to take advantage of their programs and curricula.

Work is underway to build more well -defined pathways charting the movements from one level of education to the next and into the labor market. This work will be challenging as technology and innovation will continue to redefine the nature of work and the landscape of jobs and careers in an accelerated manner. Extensive collaboration between educators and employers will be essential in setting standards for our education and training programs to meet the challenges of escalating job performance requirements. Both parents and students must become more engaged in understanding these complexities and the consequences of a failure to do so. In this setting, human capital has become a precious and scarce asset and therefore, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. A more traditional high school education will continue to be preferred by most students. The purpose of creating the new comprehensive technical high school is to offer those students for whom applied learning and the mastery of technical skills is the most effective way to prepare for the future and enter the region’s workforce. Now is the time for employers, educators, public officials, parents and students to organize and make this school a reality for our region.

John Dorrer is an economist focused education and workforce issues. He led the Center for Workforce Research and Information, Maine Department of Labor (2004-2011). He currently serves on the Region 10 Advisory Committee and is a member of the core planning team leading the efforts to establish a comprehensive technical high school at Brunswick Landing.

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