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Educate Maine: Effort to Prep Mainers for High-Tech Jobs Falling Short
02/15/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

At first glance, the prospects for employment in Maine's high-tech industry look promising. There are hundreds of positions available and the demand for skilled workers is increasing each year. But a new technology advocacy coalition says the state needs to do a lot more to prepare its workforce for the jobs of the future. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Educate Maine: Effort to Prep Mainers for High-Te
Originally Aired: 2/15/2013 5:30 PM
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 Duration:
3:01

Roger Katz and Seth Goodall

Maine state Sens. Roger Katz, left, and Seth Goodall, discuss ways to improve Maine's workforce.

The group "Educate Maine" cites federal labor analysts who say there are more than 800 computer and technology jobs going unfilled in the state. The bad news, says Educate Maine's Tanna Clews, is that by 2018, the state still won't have enough workers to fill those positions.

"The number of skilled graduates are decreasing and a third of these jobs are being taken offshore in Maine," Clews says.

Clews is part of a coalition of state business leaders that has launched Project Login in an effort to double the number of University of Maine System graduates specializing in computer science and information technology. She told members of the Legislature’s Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future that partnering with the state's universities, businesses and government will allow Project Login to maintain a comprehensive Web site with information and resources for those interested in computer and technology careers.

In addition to online help, the initiative has compiled a list of paid and unpaid internships for those pursuing high-tech jobs, and provides updates through social media on developments in advanced technologies. Clews says that while the effort is aimed at university students, she says it has to start earlier.

"We want to build the pipeline in a sustainable manner," Clews says. "We can't just focus on the freshman class and these degree programs this year, which we know that's really the class we're going to be looking at in 2017. We need 142 of them to graduate. But we need to be filling the pipeline. We need to be working with middle school and high school counselors and teachers, and most importantly informing and exciting students and high schools about these exciting careers."

But for Pat Conley, director of management development and training at the Bath Iron Works, the key to finding good help is as much about attitude as it is about skills.  Conley says his company uses an apprenticeship program to provide a pool of workers who are, at the least, trainable.

"This apprenticeship class that I just alluded to where we have 58 basically new employees coming from the outside, we have well over 378 applicants for those positions," Conley says. "We interviewed 200 plus. And what we were looking for was not experience; we were looking for energy and attitude.  In other words:  Sell yourself and we'll teach you the trade. We were somewhat surprised at how many people couldn't do that."

State Sen. Roger Katz, an Augusta Republican, says lawmakers are now trying to decide which job training programs are worthy of state investment. Apprenticeships such as BIW's are appealing, he says, because the money is going to real jobs that are ready to be filled now.

"I was very interested in hearing about our apprenticeship program, and as we look to where we might put our limited resources, it seems to me that's one area that we might be looking to be expanding at this time," Katz says.

Sen. Seth Goodall says he expects the committee to have some preliminary recommendations on improving the state's workforce by the end of the month. 

Photo by A.J. Higgins

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