Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, left, accepts the microphone Thursday from Djima Ainan, CEO of Touchstone Support Services, at a luncheon meeting in Lewiston of immigrant owners and directors of agencies and community organizations engaged in providing direct care, behavioral health, and public health services. Fortman discussed the role of New Americans in achieving Maine’s employment goals. The event was held at Naimia Restaurant on Lisbon Street. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman took her message directly to the immigrant community Thursday, saying the state is looking to them to help with the growing need for health care workers.

The meeting was held at Naima Restaurant at 249 Lisbon St. in the heart of the city’s immigrant community and included an Ethiopian lunch and Somali tea. The room was primarily filled with health care professionals and business owners in the health care and behavioral health fields, people who have successfully transitioned professionally and culturally in Maine.

“One of the administration’s goals is to help health care businesses such as yours hire and train new employees, as well as invest in retention strategies such as ensuring existing employees have ways to upskill and advance in their careers,” Fortman told the gathering.

To that end, Fortman said the Department of Labor has partnered with Maine’s public universities, community colleges, Office of Adult Education and Department of Education for the tuition remission program to help employers get advanced training and certification for health care workers by paying for the training, fees, books and some support services.

So far, 750 have enrolled in the program, a figure that met with universal approval from the immigrant community.

The state predicts that by 2030, Maine’s workforce will hit 750,000, with the state’s 10-year economic plan calling for the recruitment of 75,000 people to join the workforce.


“These are a combination of folks who are perhaps already here in Maine, but are on the sidelines, as well as people from other places and other states,” Fortman said. “In order to do that, we must have a collaborative effort. It is going to require all of us working together.”

The commissioner told the audience that 19% of all jobs in the Lewiston-Auburn area were in health care and related fields in 2022, with wages up 6.4% in all industries.

With an unemployment rate of 2.5% last month, the Department of Labor knows recruiting skilled and unskilled workers is critical to meeting the workforce needs of the future.

Maxwell Chikuta, chief executive officer of Veritas Care of Maine, acknowledged that many New Mainers and immigrants who settled here years ago have skills and training from their home nations but need better English skills to transition into new roles in Maine.

Chikuta also announced that the Maine Department of Labor has awarded a $20,000 grant to help pay for some of the educational costs through the Maine Labor and Resource Center.

In August, Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order to establish an Office of New Americans by Jan. 19, 2024, with a goal of incorporating immigrants into Maine’s workforce and communities to strengthen the economy over the long-term.

In the next year, Maine is expected to resettle more than 800 refugees, double the figure in fiscal year 2023, not including asylum seekers and other legal immigrants.

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