AUGUSTA — House Speaker Mark Eves is backing a bill designed to invest $5 million over the next five years in job training programs that create public-private partnerships to develop a trained workforce in high-demand fields such as logging, health care and machining.

The bill, called “Put ME to Work,” would also fund scholarships in some of the same fields. Eves and Democratic leaders have promoted the bill as a vehicle to help fill job needs in select industries in which an aging workforce and new hires aren’t keeping pace with new skill needs.

The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine was among the groups that testified in support of the bill Monday. The logging industry grew by 5 percent in 2014. However, contractors can’t find enough logging technicians to operate sophisticated harvesting equipment.

The bill establishes job training programs at postsecondary schools by working with private businesses to identify industries experiencing changes in workforce needs. At least 50 percent of the startup cost for new job training programs would be paid for by a business or trade group, either through direct funding or in-kind contributions such as equipment or teachers.

The selected industries must also be identified by the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information as providing “high compensation” jobs.

The bill also diverts $900,000 from the state’s General Fund to the Maine Community College System, which already works to tailor college curricula to reflect the needs of employers.

In addition to the forest products industry, the machinist union at Bath Iron Works and other trade groups voiced support for the bill during a public hearing before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

“If we want good jobs and strong wages, we must bring our workers and businesses together to prepare for the jobs of the future. Maine’s comeback story depends on it,” said Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick. “By investing in training for workers and students in every region of the state, we are putting a down payment on growing the middle class.”

Eves said the idea for the bill came after a statewide jobs tour that he and other Democrats launched in January.

“We’ve heard from employers and workers across the state about the best way to improve our economy. The message is the same from North Berwick to Frenchville: Invest in our workers and businesses,” Eves said.

The bill has the support of several key Republicans, including Sen. Andre Cushing, the assistant majority leader in the Senate.

The proposal may undergo alterations before it’s voted on by the committee.

 


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