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Maine Lawmakers Seek to Coordinate Education System, Job Training
08/26/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

When members of a legislative committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future held hearings across the state earlier this year, one message they consistently heard was that not enough is being done to prepare Maine's workers for future jobs. As Mal Leary reports, that has led to a study to develop a five-year plan to integrate the plans for the elementary and secondary public schools with the state's public higher education institutions.

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House Majority Leader Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham, is co-chair of the panel. He says it's clear that if Maine wants to compete in a global economy, it needs to have a skilled workforce.

"One of the things that we heard that came up in multiple places and from multiple individuals was that the education system is sometimes a system and sometimes not," Berry says, "that is doesn?t always operate as seamlessly as we might like."

Another member of the panel, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, says, currently, there's a lack of coordination between the public education system and vocational job training programs across the state. That's why the state education commissioner and leaders of Maine's public universities are bieng asked to come up with a plan to help bridge that gap.

"This is really an effort to see that that happens and that they are coordinating their efforts, as we try to do what we all agree that we ought to do," Katz says, "and that is to try and match up our educational resources that we have, as scarce as they may be, with the opportunities for high-paying, high-demand jobs of the future."

The effort is being welcomed by higher education institutions. John Fitzsimmons is the longtime president of the Maine Community College System. He says it is time to recognize that work force needs go beyond college education and include training for a range of occupations.

"For the first time in my history have I seen - and that is 23 years as the system president - a discussion happened that understood that it crosses over this whole array of services in order to produce a high-skilled, high-quality workforce," Fitzsimmons says.

National studies show there's a need for more workers with greater skills than in the past. Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen says right now the state is falling woefully short in keeping pace.

"Where are the cracks that kids fall through? We know that we have, compared to nation averages, we have a high, high school graduation rate, but we have a very low college completion rate," Bowen says, "so somewhere in there, there is a hole where we've got groups of kids who graduated from high school and who did not go on to complete a post-secondary education experience and obtain a degree. And the question is, Why is that?"

A final report is due in February. Panel members say it will likely call for additional resources to meet the challenge, as well as for a reallocation of existing education resources.


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