FARMINGTON — The good news is that companies in Maine are starting to look to hire workers for emerging careers in health care, science and technology.

The problem is that not enough Mainers are getting the education and training they need to do the work, and it won’t be long before the companies take their jobs someplace else.

This was the message educators and labor officials delivered Monday morning at the first forum hosted by the Maine Futures Institute, a new labor initiative started by the University of Maine at Farmington and the Maine Department of Labor, Center for Workforce Research and Information.

About 50 people from area school districts, labor groups and economic development agencies gathered at the UMF campus in Farmington, working from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to develop plans for everything from new education programs to labor policies.

UMF President Theodora Kalikow said the initiative’s goal is to change the approach to education and workforce development in Maine, which has seen its workers falling behind the rapidly changing economy in recent years.

Kalikow challenged the group to help more workers keep up with new technologies in an expanding and highly-competitive global marketplace.

“We’re educating people for jobs that have not been invented,” she said.

Failing to acknowledge this problem could turn Maine’s economy into a “museum of the past,” she said, referring to a danger of losing jobs in growing fields.

“We need to change the story that you have to leave Maine to get ahead,” Kalikow said.

Maine’s population and employment trends, however, show that the opposite is happening, according to John Dorrer, a program director for Jobs for the Future, a not-for-profit organization in Boston that develops labor and education strategies.

Maine is losing young people and has an aging workforce that lacks the skills to fill many of the jobs in the emerging fields, said Dorrer, who also recently served as director of the Center for Workforce Research and Information for the labor department in Maine.

He presented bleak unemployment figures, citing labor department data, with Maine losing 30,000 jobs since the economy collapsed in 2008, when employment peaked at more than 620,000 payroll jobs.

Although unemployment figures are still high, as the economy appears ready to make a “slogging recovery,” a lot more companies are seeking to hire workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Dorrer said.

“The major obstacle is finding workers with the right skills,” he said, referring to a quote by a Maine business owner.

Dorrer said that demand for skilled workers is only expected to grow. By 2018, a total of 59 percent of the jobs in Maine will require a post secondary education, he said, citing a Georgetown University study.

The workshop will help direct the next step for the Maine Futures Institute, which has no set plan on how it will take action to address some of these issues, according to Dorrer, who said he worked with Kalikow to start the program.

“We’re trying to build the network and support the infrastructure to bring about change,” he said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


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