Growing our workforce for today’s economy

By Sen. Erin Herbig | Jun 12, 2019
Linda Lee of Jonno’s Place in Belfas and Kevin Michaud of Waldo County Technical Center are pictured with Sen. Erin Herbig. Lee and Michaud traveled to Augusta to discuss the importance of career and technical education to develop our workforce.

Since I was first elected to the Legislature, one of my top priorities has been developing our workforce. To grow our economy in Waldo County and rural Maine, businesses must have the skilled workers they need to thrive. That’s why I’ve advocated for career and technical education to prepare people for jobs in the trades — from electrical, plumbing and carpentry to culinary arts and our hospitality industry.

Schools like the Waldo County Technical Center play a critical role in growing our workforce, providing students with the tools they need not only to succeed in the workplace, but also to start their own businesses.

Another crucial part of workforce development is eliminating barriers to employment. There are so many talented people who are often left out of our workforce.

When veterans return from service, we must recognize not just their sacrifice, but also the skills they are bringing back to our communities.

When we think of people with disabilities, we must remember their potential to contribute to and lead in every field.

And when people who have been incarcerated or are recovering from addiction look for work, we must create pathways to success.

If we continue to write people off, we’ll never build stronger communities or develop the workforce we need to thrive in the 21st century.

This session, I’ve submitted a bill to grow our workforce by encouraging and recognizing businesses that have a positive social impact. Most states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico promote businesses with positive social impacts by officially recognizing them as “benefit corporations.” This designation helps businesses attract workers and customers who believe in the company’s mission.

Benefit corporations across the U.S. have attracted more than $2 billion in investment and have received international attention. My bill, LD 1519, “An Act Concerning the Establishment of Benefit Corporations,” will allow Maine businesses to be designated officially as benefit corporations.

In Maine, benefit corporations are not recognized by the state. A number of companies — including ReVision Energy in Liberty, Tom’s of Maine, Coffee by Design and MaineWorks — would qualify for the designation.

MaineWorks, for example, is a Maine-based employment company for people who face barriers to employment, such as those who are recovering from addiction or have been incarcerated. MaineWorks connects them with jobs in construction, manufacturing, the trades and more — helping address both our workforce shortage and the opioid epidemic.

Another bill I worked on that just passed, LD 1408, “An Act to Allow Law Enforcement Officers to Wear Insignia on Their Uniforms to Indicate That They Are Veterans,” would help attract veterans to our law enforcement departments. The idea for this bill came from members of Randall-Collins VFW in Belfast. In addition to welcoming veterans into the field, LD 1408 would recognize veterans for their service and could help to de-escalate difficult situations between law enforcement and the public when they involve fellow veterans.

A third bill to help grow our workforce — LD 852, “An Act to Enhance the Coordination of Benefits, Assessments and Expansion of Continuing Education Programs for Young Adults with Disabilities after High School” — unanimously passed the House and Senate earlier this month. The bill, which I’m proud to support, would help young people with disabilities bridge the gap between high school and the workplace. As continuing education programs are crucial to setting up these young people for success, LD 852 would create a task force to improve these programs.

I’m hopeful that these bills will be signed into law, helping to grow our workforce and break down barriers to employment. When government, schools and businesses collaborate, we put people to work in good-paying jobs and grow our economy in Waldo County and across rural Maine.

Sen. Herbig is serving her first term in the Maine Senate representing Waldo County. She lives in Belfast.

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