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Legislative Task Force Says Maine’s Skilled Worker Shortage Has Reached Crisis Levels

The lack of skilled workers facing Maine employers has become a crisis — so says a legislative task force charged with finding ways to improve the state’s labor pool.

The shortage of skilled workers applies to a wide array of both professional and support occupations, the task force has found. There are not enough doctors or nurses in Maine, and the state is also in need of more medical support staff such as phlebotomists.

The problem is not just in health care. John Dorrer, a workforce consultant who once directed the state Department of Labor workforce research, says he often hears the same question.

“‘Why isn’t Maine growing?’ Well, this is why Maine isn’t growing, because we are basically forgoing economic opportunity,” he says. “Tables that could have been served and rooms that could have been filled. Products that could have been sold that weren’t, because we don’t have the workforce.”

Dorrer says there are thousands of jobs going unfilled in the state because there are no workers with the skills needed in those occupations. Others on the task force acknowledge that the problem has become serious.

“We are in a state of crisis at this point,” says House Democratic Leader Erin Herbig of Belfast. “I have visited over 50 employers in Waldo County over the last month and a half, and virtually every single one said, ‘My No. 1 concern is I am having trouble hiring people.’“

Herbig acknowledges that previous workforce studies by the Legislature have concluded that Maine has not been investing enough in developing a workforce with the skills needed for the new economy. She says it’s an issue that must be taken up in the Legislature’s January session, and she is calling for more investments in both higher education programs and job training programs.

Herbig says the panel already written Gov. Paul LePage asking that he reconsider his decision not to accept over $8 million in workforce development funds from the federal government. She says the state needs every dollar it can get to help train people for jobs that are still going unfilled.

This story was originally published Nov. 16, 2017 at 3:25 p.m. ET.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.