AUGUSTA — With so many Mainers looking for work, it can be hard to imagine that there are employers out there waiting to write paychecks for employees they just can’t find.

But that’s exactly the case for certain industries that require workers with skills that just can’t be found in the pools of the unemployed, according to several industry leaders who testified Monday before the Labor Committee.

“People that would get trained in our industry have a job waiting for them,” said Jim Nichols, owner of Nichols Brothers Logging in Rumford. Logging isn’t what it used to be, he said. Today’s logger must operate complex harvesting machinery that require much more training than a chainsaw.

The bill before the committee was LD 1373, House Speaker Mark Eves’ “Put ME to Work” initiative. It’s a signature jobs effort by the North Berwick Democrat, and would invest $5 million over five years to develop public-private partnerships between industries in need of skilled workers and the state’s community college system.

The program would put that money on the table for businesses or industries interested in collaborating with the colleges on job training. The training must be tailored for “jobs in high-demand fields,” and the businesses or industry group would be required to provide 50 percent of the program’s start-up costs, which would be matched by the state. Lastly, those who complete the program must be awarded a degree or certificate universally recognized by the industry for which the training is designed.

Eves said the bill was a “down payment on growing the middle class.”


“If we want good jobs and strong wages, we must bring our workers and businesses together to prepare for the jobs of the future,” he said. “Maine’s comeback story depends on it.”

A case example, cited by Eves, was the 2013 partnership between defense contractor Pratt & Whitney and York County Community College.

The company and college, along with several other businesses and assisted by a state grant, developed a precision machining technology program. Barbara Finkelstein, president of YCCC, told the committee on Monday that the program is already churning out skilled machinists, and that many already have local job offers or internships.

Now other industries want in. Representatives from Maine’s logging, manufacturing and agricultural sectors were all on hand Monday to support Eves’ bill.

It’s not enough for Maine to simply be “open for business,” as stated by the large sign that Gov. Paul LePage had placed near the state’s southern border on Interstate 95, said Stuart Jablon, president and COO of Backyard Farms in Madison.

“Underneath that, it should say ‘qualified help wanted,’” he said.


Jablon said Backyard Farms’ average new employee, lacking the necessary skills, must complete three months of training in plant physiology, entomology and food safety before he or she can begin de-leafing, clipping or pruning the company’s famous tomatoes.

He said the company would happily invest in a shared job training program to ensure a steady supply of ready workers.

While no one spoke in opposition to Eves’ job training plan, LePage’s administration testified with several concerns and suggestions.

Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, said the state already has several job training initiatives, including those tailored specifically at workers laid off from the state’s shrinking manufacturing industry.

She said the Put ME to Work program could complement those existing efforts, but asked that specific criteria for judging industry proposals be included in the bill’s language, as well as a system for identifying who is eligible for the job training programs. She also questioned whether the entire program should be housed in the community college system, rather than offered through a more diverse range of institutions.

Eves said he’s open to working with the committee to address those and any other concerns.

“We are open to whatever idea is going to be successful,” he said.

The committee will discuss the bill later this week before making a recommendation to the full Legislature.

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