It is an incontravertible truth that Maine needs more immigrants to meet its future workforce needs — the state’s demographics allow for no other solution.

But there are thousands of young residents already here who are not in the workforce but have the potential to contribute. For their sake and ours, they need to be pulled from the shadows and put to work.

The clinical term for this group is “disengaged youth,” but the reality is not so antiseptic. These are residents age 18 to 24 who have no degree beyond high school and are not working or in school. They are rudderless, with their lives at a full halt and often no one around them to show the way forward toward contributing adulthood. They’ll likely come out of it eventually, when the waywardness of youth wears off, but too late to find a stable and fulfilling career path. Without intervention, they’ll struggle throughout life, and be a drain on social services.

They also didn’t just decide to end up where they are. Many have faced significant childhood trauma, their lives influenced by poverty, homelessness, addiction and incarceration.

There are 17,000 such residents in Maine — 15 percent of the age group, the highest in New England, according to the 2013 edition of Making Maine Work, a collaboration between the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

The 2016 edition, recently released, focuses on the need to increase net in-migration in Maine, given its aging workforce, low birth rates and lack of diversity.

That is absoluately correct, as without an influx of more people, Maine employers in some of the biggest industries of the 21st century will not be able to adequately fill positions.

But we cannot forget the Mainers who lost their way sometime around high school graduation and are now floating untethered somewhere outside the view of mainstream society. It is a notoriously difficult population to handle, full of young men and women who have been let down by many of the people around them and lost their aspirations for a better life. They lack basic skills, and the support to obtain them.

There may be some help coming out of Lewiston, where Goodwill Industries of Northern New England has received a $1 million federal grant to provide job training and educational opportunities to at-risk youth. In the next four years, 65 to 80 young Mainers will learn construction skills by repairing buildings in downtown Lewiston, and gain computer and life skills as well.

The organization has done this type of work successfully before, and it will be interesting to see what results they can achieve through this significant grant. Perhaps it can be used alongside other successful intiatives in this vein, such as the Jobs for Maine Graduates program, to make sure more young Mainers become productive members of society. As Maine’s demographics clearly show, the state needs every one it can get.

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