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Report: Shrinking Maine Workforce Threatens Economic Growth
11/19/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Maine's workforce is shrinking. Over the next six years, it's estimated that 200,000 people will reach the age of 65. Many of those people will stay in the workforce, but it's expected that there still won't be enough young workers to completely fill the void. It's a problem that the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation highlight in the latest Making Maine Work report. The groups say that, in this case, quantity is as important as quality. Patty Wight has more.

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Making Maine Work - Copy

Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors makes the case for a plan to bolster Maine's shrinking workforce.

There's been a lot of talk in recent years about the need to better match the skills of Maine's workforce to the jobs that are in demand. But there's another equally important factor to consider, says Maine State Chamber President Dana Connors: Maine's workforce size.

"Facing the aging of our population, and facing the fact that our population is slowing down, we face a likelihood that by the end of this decade - by 2020 - we will lose 20,000 people in our workforce," Connors says.

The state's population is growing at a snail's pace, and when you factor in baby boomer retirement, says Connors, it's a recipe for a stagnant, if not shrinking, economy.

"Maine's economy will not have a workforce with diverse skills unless there are enough people of diverse talents to fill those openings," Connors says.

The Making Maine Work report acts as a road map to avoid this future. It sets a goal to increase the size of the state's workforce by 65,000 people by the end of the decade.

The report proposes two basic strategies to get there, says Cheryl Miller of the Maine Development Foundation. First, recruit workers from out of state. Second, increase the participation of the state's existing potential workforce.

"We need to more fully engage and fully realize the potential of every Mainer," Miller says. "We have young people who are not currently in school or in the workforce. We have adults without post-high school degrees. We have many older workers, and we have people with disabilities."

But there are companies that are tapping some of the potential labor force that's faced barriers in the past. Executives at Procter and Gamble's Auburn Tambrands plant acknowledge that they had initial reservations a few years ago when they first considered hiring people with disabilities to staff a new customization center.

"We had a lot of concerns - all of the concerns any business would have," says Tambrand's Rick Malinowski. "What am I getting into? What kind of needs will they have? What accommodations will I have to make? Am I taking a risk with safety or quality?"

Malinowski is an HR leader at Tambrands.

"None of those have been founded. We've found that the folks that are here are eager to be here, hard working, willing to learn, do what it takes," Malinowski says. "We've had no safety injuries. The quality has been outstanding, and we're saving a lot of money - those are jobs that were getting shipped out to New Jersey. We're doing that work in house and creating jobs in Maine."

Malinowski says as the company plans to expand operations, it will also expand its disabled workforce. Cheryl Miller of the Maine Development Foundation says moving the number of these under-tapped sectors of the workforce upward by just a few percentage points would help Maine reach the goal of 65,000 extra workers by 2020.

The report also proposes establishing public-private partnerships to guide and coordinate Maine's workforce goals, as well as a marketing commission to help draw workers to the state.

As for ensuring whether these workers have the necessary skills? That's the subject of the next Making Maine Work report, due out in the spring.

View the entire Making Maine Work report.

Photo:  Patty Wight

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