March 12, 2020

Maine’s economy is at a crossroads. Our state has the oldest median age in the nation, and our workforce is rapidly ageing. As industries continue to see higher and higher number of retirees, they are in desperate need of new employees. Additionally, as our nations economy continues to grow and expand, many businesses are in a position to increase their economic impact. The only thing that is holding them back is a well-trained workforce.

Last month, we joined a bipartisan group of legislators to tour Pratt & Whitneys facility in North Berwick. This high tech industrial center is performing cutting edge work to support our nations aerospace industry and our military. Over the last 5 years Pratt & Whitney has hired approximately 1,500 new employees in their North Berwick facility. This has made a critical difference in our regions economy. Every dollar that Pratt & Whitney puts into our economy through salaries and benefits comes back into our region through employee spending at car repair shops, restaurants and convenience stores. The investment of this large-scale employer ultimately benefits our communities and small businesses.

Pratt & Whitney, however, hasnt been able to simply hang up a help wanted sign and hire qualified employees. In order to take full advantage of Maines workforce, Pratt & Whitney has partnered with York County Community College to create a six week intensive course that prepares students to enter their workforce. They have also established an apprenticeship program to train potential workers on the job. These are important steps that Pratt & Whitney is able to take to bolster its workforce.

As a state, we need to do more to expand programs like this in our public secondary education system. A key piece of workforce development is Maines network of career and technical education (CTE) centers. Located throughout the state, these CTE centers provide important training for our students and allow them to graduate high school with a credential. For the many students for which college is not the right fit, this allows them to leave high school with a career path and without burdensome student debt. CTE is a significant aspect of getting new workers into the economic pipeline.

This year in Augusta, we are considering two pieces of legislation sponsored by Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, which will fund capital improvements at Maines CTE centers. Were also considering legislation from Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Waldo, to increase state funding for CTE programming. These investments will bring Maines CTE programs into the 21st century by replacing outdated equipment and ensuring that these educational initiatives properly prepare our students for todays workforce needs. All of us in Augusta understand the importance of CTEs, and were prepared to put our money where our mouth is.

Investing in Maines CTE centers, like our local center in Sanford, supports large-scale employers such as Pratt & Whitney and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It also supports small businesses, which may not have the capacity to create an in-house apprenticeship or training program.

From pipefitters to foresters and from nursing assistants to auto mechanics, Maines CTE centers are bolstering our workforce and economy. In order to stay competitive as a state, we need to ensure that we invest in this training infrastructure. Our students success, and future salary, depends on it.

Rep. Dan Hobbs is serving his first term in the Maine State Legislature. He represents part of the town of Wells
Rep. Tiffany Roberts is also serving her first term in the Maine State Legislature. She represents South Berwick and part of the town of South Berwick

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