AUGUSTA — A bill proposing $11 million in job training initiatives was introduced Thursday by a special legislative committee that’s focused on closing Maine’s “skills gap.”
The committee isn’t necessarily endorsing the proposals, but simply putting them forward for a broader debate in the Legislature, said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, co-chairman of the Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future.
“The committee is very cognizant of the cost of these proposals, and realistically, they will not all pass,” said Goodall, D-Richmond. “The committee knows and realizes that we have to use the taxpayers’ money wisely.”
L.D. 90 includes an additional $4.9 million for the Maine Community College System and another $3.2 million for the Department of Labor.
A public hearing on the bill will be held Monday. The bill eventually will have to go to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.
Workforce development is a legislative priority for both Democrats and Republicans. The special committee was the first policy initiative announced by the newly elected Democratic majority in the Legislature.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage has lamented the skills gap. His spokeswoman did not return calls for comment Thursday on the proposals.
The proposals were compiled after the committee heard weeks of presentations by business, policy and education leaders and got their suggestions for the best way for the state to support or expand workforce development.
Common themes included streamlining and marketing existing programs, increasing cooperation across state departments and establishing a training pipeline to high-wage, high-demand jobs.
An estimated 3,863 jobs will go unfilled between now and 2018, according to a report commissioned by Southern Maine Community College and done last year by Planning Decisions Inc. of South Portland
The report projected that Maine will suffer “a severe shortage of workers” in computer, information technology and precision manufacturing industries if Maine does not beef up training and education in those fields.
At the same time, educators say they are under financial constraints.
The funding proposed for the Maine Community College System “is such welcome news,” said John Fitzsimmons, president of the system. “This is the first investment to increase our enrollment in 10 years. This could not be more timely.”
He said the community college system, after growing 83 percent over 10 years, reached capacity last year. The school turned away students in 86 programs last year, and was anticipating flat enrollment this fall, he said.
A $4 million infusion would allow Maine’s community colleges to hire more full-time faculty and add 500 students.
Another proposal would give the University of Maine System a one-time $2.3 million appropriation, to be matched by the university system, to establish a scholarship for adults to complete their degrees.
“Something like that ($4.6 million) could have a significant impact,” said Ryan Low, executive director of government affairs for the University of Maine System.
Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, said it’s a critical time to focus on job training.
“From my perspective, it’s really long overdue,” said Langley, who taught culinary arts for 27 years at Hancock County Technical Center and serves on the Legislature’s Education Committee.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: