Friends, I have been struggling with this blog post! I try to post something once a week. I would love to do it more, but I just can’t pump stuff out that often and still maintain the rest of my life, which believe it or not, is incredibly busy for someone who is technically not working a full-time job.
Corey calls it the Type A personality in me. “Denise, you have already gotten yourself into Type A mode again. You’ve stressed yourself all out and this time, you’ve done it TO YOURSELF.”
Be that as it may, I have been working extra long on this post. When I made Corey read it the first time, it was 2500+ words. Most of my posts are around 1000-1,500 and many out there are less. When he finished reading he looked like I had smacked him around a little. His eyes were all glassy and he was blinking a lot.
“Wow,” he said. “I might need a little time to absorb this before I can comment on it. I’m a little overwhelmed.”
Welllll… Major changes and here we are. I’ll get right to the point.
Maine, what is happening to us? Here are some facts about Maine I bet many of you didn’t even know. If you were aware already, you probably didn’t think much about it. I know, I am making some assumptions, but frankly, I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t been in workforce development for the last 15 years.
Maine is in crisis. We are the oldest state in the nation and more people are dying than being born. So many people are dying that the birth rate can’t keep up with the death rate. The baby boomers are nearing retirement age, so we have more older workers in the workforce. As the baby boomers retire, employers can’t find employees to fill their jobs. We have MANY great colleges and universities in our state, but those graduates are leaving the state upon graduation. They are heading out of Maine to pursue what they think are better jobs for better pay.
And they might be right.
Why would new businesses come to Maine without employees to fill their jobs? Why would a business STAY in Maine without employees to hire?
We need to talk about it because Maine is such a great place to live and raise a family. I am not alone when I say I believe in our communities and I care about our state. There is unlimited potential we have yet to tap, potential living within the nooks and crannies of our mountains, along our rivers, in the valleys, via the highways and byways that make up this state.
Here’s part of the problem and what prompted this post. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Grant. It is a $9 million, federal, job training grant.
WIOA focuses on disadvantaged populations and dislocated workers seeking education, training, or employment. It can fill in a lot of gaps for people that financial aid or other grants can’t always provide. There are support services for childcare or transportation. It pays for books. It can also pay for adult ed courses like C.N.A or welding. Classes that can help those who need a boost or aren’t ready to commit to college. WIOA is the funding that pays for re-training for dislocated workers; many of the laid off paper mill workers benefited from WIOA training funds.
There is a lot to the grant. I don’t need to bog you down here (remember 2,500 words? ) If you want to learn more, you can google it. I will also put a link at the bottom of this post.
I worked under the youth component of WIOA and focused on youth ages 16-24. Anyone who knows me knows I loved my job, my team, those with whom I worked. I did damn good work and was recognized for the various contributions I made locally, regionally, and even nationally.
Our organization did great work under that grant. Everyone I worked with LOVED what they did. They worked incredibly hard to serve a challenging population and busted ass to do it.
The problems arose when Governor LePage wanted control of that grant, then refused to disburse the funds. It is why many people who worked under WIOA were laid off, both at my organization and throughout the state. LePage was later ordered to release the funding and the service providers are now in the process of rebuilding their programs.
My initial draft of this post tried to explain the account in detail; it’s what made it so long. The moral of the story is Governor LePage has no right to control the WIOA funding because it is a federal grant. He was ordered to disperse the funds because holding them was illegal.
Why is WIOA and Maine’s employment crisis linked?
The goals of the WIOA grant line up quite nicely with the needs of our state: Work with employers to understand the job market. Get people trained or get them credentials that employers say they need. Get people hired. Make sure they are hired at a livable wage. Make sure they stay working.
Our job was to work with individuals, assess their needs, remove their barriers, and find them viable employment.
ULTIMATELY: Move disadvantaged populations off of state systems. You know, like welfare?
Anyway, last Monday I read in the newspaper that Governor LePage is targeting WIOA funding again.
I get so fired up every time I think about it…About the time we spent prior to being laid off, working to PROVE our worth to someone who, as our “leader,” should already know what we, as WIOA providers, were doing to work with employers, industry, and individuals. In some cases, we were doing ground-breaking work.
Yet, he didn’t care. Instead, we wasted capacity to run reports and provide the same data over and over. Internally, we analyzed data, asked questions, reviewed information, double checked files.
I remember our organization hosted this really great economic development conference with fabulous national speakers and great breakout sessions. It was really well attended and just so freakin’ awesome! I left that day and thought, “my GOD. This cannot be over. We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.”
Until it was.
Shame on you, Governor LePage
We just can’t lose sight of the most important aspect of our state: the people. We can’t lose sight of what has made Maine so great.
Having worked with youth for so many years, I am also empowered by the amazing voices young people have raised over the issue of gun violence in the schools. The march in D.C. and across the U.S should be a wake up call and a reminder that
OUR YOUTH ARE OUR FUTURE.
We cannot afford to let one single youth slip through the cracks of the system. WIOA is a bridge and a lifeboat for many of those youth.
We need to do everything we can to empower individuals to develop educational awareness, to learn to navigate systems, and to engage in their communities to become leaders and champions of their own lives and their own futures.
We need to train Mainers. We need to re-train them. We need to educate them. We need to EMPLOY them and keep them employed. We need to keep them in Maine. We need to bring people TO Maine to stay.
We need to be helping people reach their potential. We need to do the right thing. Perhaps doing the right thing is holding our leaders accountable. Perhaps it is holding our friends accountable. Maybe it is listening to our subordinates. Listening to our co-workers. Maybe it is just working to keep our kids in Maine. Or maybe it is organizing a million person march across the state or across the nation. I don’t know what your right thing is… But we all need to figure out how to make our contribution because our state, and so many other things, is spiraling. And that might sound a little melodramatic, but let it be so.
It is my story after all.
For statistics and percentages that back up my facts or for more info about state, visit these websites:
For the articles I refer to about Governor LePage and the job training funds, please go to: bangordailynews.com
For information about WIOA, check out:http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/