One of the most important questions facing any businessperson is: How will I find the quality employees my company needs to thrive in the economy of today and tomorrow?

One of the most important questions facing any parent is: How will I find the quality education my child needs to thrive in the economy of today and tomorrow?

Let me back up a moment. I’ve worn a lot of “hats” in my career. Teacher. Coach. Principal. Superintendent. Associate director of workforce development for one of Maine’s largest construction companies. Member of the business-leader group ReadyNation.

All of those roles involved improving educational outcomes and building a stronger workforce — two goals that are more important than ever.

Why? Because Maine faces an alarming shortfall of the great workers we’ll need to compete.

A few years ago, studies told us that 12 percent of students in the University of Maine System and half of the students entering our community college system require remedial classes. While these numbers have reportedly improved slightly in the past year, we are still faced with the fact that a large number of high-school graduates aren’t college- or career-ready when they receive their diplomas.


How severe is this problem? A recent ReadyNation report shows that, if current trends continue, Maine will face a “skills gap” of 15,000 workers by 2020. That gap means that there won’t be employees who have the qualifications or abilities they need to fill those open positions.

That leaves businesses with two options, both of them awful: Either employers can leave those jobs unfilled, meaning that businesses will be less efficient and productive, or employers can fill those positions with applicants who don’t have the credentials or qualifications they need to function properly.

In either scenario, our workforce — and our economy — will be weaker.

The solution to this problem is right in front of us.

We can ensure Maine’s competitiveness and reduce our skills gap by staying the course with the implementation of innovative education models like proficiency-based education.

Proficiency-based learning is an important cornerstone for preparing Maine students to make the transition into productive, fulfilling careers. It pairs rigorous academic standards and aligned student assessments with a curriculum that focuses on core subjects that help ready Maine’s students for college and careers.


Proficiency-based learning also incorporates deeper learning — helping students master essential academic content, while at the same time they learn problem-solving, effective communication, critical thinking, and collaboration. Those are the “executive-functioning” skills needed to produce and succeed in a competitive workforce. Deeper learning combines traditional academics with career and technical education and other practical learning exercises that bridge the gap from classroom to workplace.

Through deeper learning, students learn how to harness the knowledge they’ve acquired in one subject area and adapt it to ever-changing situations, the same talent they’ll need to know to prosper in the modern job market.

Those are the abilities that business leaders need today and will need tomorrow. That’s why it’s so important that we don’t back away from our commitment to proficiency-based learning, and to Maine’s next generation of workers.

Yet, we find ourselves at an educational crossroads.

Now is not the time for our Legislature to waver in its resolve to ensure that Maine’s students get the best education possible.

Our students deserve a better education than simply sitting in a seat and marking time in class. They need to engage in their learning. Proficiency-based learning and deeper learning affords students the opportunity to do just that.


As we continue the debate about meaningful education reform, the conversation must include promising and evidence-based education approaches and college-and-career-readiness standards that develop and assess skills in our students that our businesses expect — and need — from their employees.

The future of Maine’s business community depends upon the caliber of our workforce. Building the skills needed to be successful in the workforce of tomorrow starts in the classrooms today.

Let’s continue to support educational models like proficiency-based learning and deeper learning, so that our students can reach their greatest potential — and Maine’s economy can do the same.

Steven Pound worked for more than 30 years in education as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent of schools in Greenville. He also was the associate director of workforce development at the Cianbro Institute. He is a former member and chairman of the State Board of Education.

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