May 20, 2013

Skills-gap bill wins unanimous support from Maine House

$9.4 million fiscal note could put kibosh on proposal to ease college credit transfers, open doors to education


AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Monday aimed at Maine's so-called "skills gap," developing Maine's workforce with job-training initiatives.

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Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

L.D. 90, sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, is an omnibus bill that would establish a uniform credit-transfer system between the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, reducing waiting lists for popular community-college programs, providing financial assistance to adult learners who went to college but didn't earn a degree and implementing a worker-training system between businesses and community colleges, among other things.

"This is about an investment in Maine's future," said Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, a member of the Legislature's Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future, in a prepared statement. "We're investing in our workers, we're investing in our businesses, we're investing in our infrastructure so there will be more opportunity in Maine."

The bill's fiscal note says it would cost nearly $9.4 million over four years, $5 million of which would come in the next two budget years. About half of the four-year total, just over $4.7 million, would go to the community college system.

The 138-0 vote Monday in the House sends the bill to the Senate for approval, after which it will go into effect only if the Legislature's Appropriations Committee can fund it in the next two-year budget, which begins in July.

The bill is supported by a broad coalition of groups, including the university and community college systems, the pro-business Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine AFL-CIO, a coalition of labor unions.

Of late, Democrats and Republicans have often cited a study from Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, saying 4,000 high-wage jobs will go unfilled over 10 years in Maine because workers' skills don't match up with jobs available, comprising the state's "skills gap."

Even though the parties agree, Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who is skeptical of the skills gap's existence, told the Portland Press Herald in January that companies nationwide are asking for changes in the educational system to compensate for their lack of investment in training and employee development.

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