Report: Maine faces education, skills crises

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PORTLAND — Most high-growth jobs in Maine will require an education beyond high school, making the need for a postsecondary degree more acute here than in the nation as a whole.

Meanwhile, the proportion of economically disadvantaged students in Maine classrooms has increased by almost 10 percent over the past decade.

This is a cause for concern because family socioeconomic status is still one of the strongest predictors of overall student success.

This is all according to the fifth annual Education Indicators for Maine report from Educate Maine, which was released at the organization’s recent education symposium in Portland.

The report concludes “Maine has a workforce shortage and a skills gap that has reached crisis levels and can no longer be ignored,” Ed Cervone, executive director of Educate Maine, said.

Overall, the report shows Maine “is making some progress in key areas, such as access to (pre-kindergarten programs) and the number of people earning credentials of value,” Educate Maine said in a press release.

However, “stagnant reading and math proficiency and the widening education achievement gap for economically disadvantaged kids are areas of concern,” the release said.

Each of the 10 indicators in the annual report “has implications for workforce development and Maine’s economy,” the press release said.

In looking forward, Educate Maine has determined 66 percent of the high-wage, in-demand job openings available now through 2024 will require some type of postsecondary education.

In addition, Educate Maine said that earning a postsecondary degree or credential, particularly in a skilled trade, is not only a good gauge of higher lifetime earnings, it’s also a benefit to the workforce and the economy.

Educate Maine “champions college and career readiness and strives to increase the educational attainment of the Maine workforce,” according to the organization’s website.

It’s funded by some of the state’s largest employers, including Maine Medical Center, Unum, Idexx and Cianbro, as well as several universities and colleges, including the University of Maine system.

Educate Maine publishes the annual report because it provides “a solid picture of what we are doing well and where we need to invest resources to better educate Maine kids and prepare them for the workforce,” Cervone said.

As part of their investment in the future, Educate Maine and its partners have created the MaineSpark initiative.

MaineSpark strives to “connect people with the education, training, jobs, programs and resources (they need) to thrive in Maine’s robust and changing economy,” according to the program’s website.

In its report, Educate Maine maintains that “reaching Maine’s at-risk and economically disadvantaged children and staying the course on proficiency- based learning” are both instrumental to the state’s future economic growth.

In reviewing the latest Education Indicators report, Cervone said “a few things strike me. First is that Maine has made good progress in creating more pre-K (programs and making them) available to more families.”

In fact, according to Educate Maine, 71 percent of Maine school districts now offer a public pre-K program to students, compared with only 24 percent in 2008.

And, Educate Maine said, increasing the number of school districts that offer pre-K instruction should become easier with changes the Legislature made to the school funding formula in the current biennial budget.

The other major point in the Education Indicators report, Cervone said, revolves around postsecondary attainment.

“Maine people need something in addition to their high school degree to be positioned to take advantage of work opportunities,” he said. And there the state is making progress, too.

Cervone said the number of adults with a skilled trade certification, a college degree or a professional designation is at 43 percent.

“This is great, (but the) real challenge will be to get to 60 percent by 2025,” he said, which is a long-term statewide education goal.

Cervone said the objective of the annual Education Indicators report is for educators and state and community leaders “to use the data in their planning and decision-making.”

“The reality,” he said, “is that Maine needs workers for a wide range of occupations and industries … in order to meet the demands of the (state’s unique) economy. Getting the education piece right will allow us to do that.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The cover of Educate Maine’s latest Education Indicators report. The report finds that a postsecondary degree or certificate will be critical to Mainers hoping to find work in the new economy.