There is a disconnect between available jobs and the skills of Maine workers. As business leaders and professional economists discussed extensively at the Maine Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission meeting last week, employers struggle to find workers with the skills needed for existing vacancies.
Lisa Martin, director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, told the commission that when she talks to her business members, their biggest problem doing business in Maine is not taxes, but a shortage of skilled laborers.
Similarly, James Cote, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine, said that a lack of qualified labor impedes Maine’s construction industry.
Question 2 asks voters to approve $3 million for the Maine Community College System to add equipment and classroom and laboratory space to train Maine’s workforce for high-demand jobs, like computer drafting, health care and nursing, hospitality and culinary arts, and machine tool and precision manufacturing.
Today we need high-tech skills for a high-tech economy. For example, Maine has at least 3,500 machine tool and precision manufacturing jobs. These demand workers who can operate machine tools such as lathes and grinders and precision tools such as laser and high-speed water jet cutters capable of slicing through metal or granite to fabricate machine parts using light or water.
Over the past decade, Androscoggin County for example has transformed into a high-precision manufacturing powerhouse. Once Maine’s center for shoe factories and textile mills, it now abounds with new companies like Micronetixx Communications that builds antennae; Diamond Phoenix Corporation that manufactures robotics; and Compounding Solutions that makes cutting-edge, specialty compounds for medical parts. Even long-established companies are becoming more precision-based. Falcon Footwear, in business for 49 years, remade themselves from a manufacturer first of children’s shoes, then steel-toed work boots, into a company that today makes high-tech industrial boots using customized equipment and plastic compound materials that don’t conduct electricity or heat like steel. And with these innovations come new jobs requiring specialized training and skills.
Question 2 is important to Maine’s economy. Without the investment in our community colleges, Maine will lose out in the competition for manufacturing businesses due to a lack of skilled workers.