Wednesday, June 19, 2013
It used to be a simple division of labor. Schools taught the basics and employers trained their workers. Like many aspects of our economy, however, things aren't so simple anymore.
That's why we applaud business leaders such as Michael Dubyak, president and CEO of South Portland-based WEX Inc., who have been willing to get involved with education in ways that we have not seen in the past.
Instead of standing on the sidelines and criticizing schools and universities for what they are doing, Dubyak chairs Educate Maine, a business-led nonprofit that works to make sure more Maine kids go farther in school, especially in technical fields.
Dubyak outlined the role for business leaders at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast this week.
Businesses such as his cannot find enough qualified candidates to fill good-paying technical jobs in Maine and many parts of the country.
Dubyak says he uses contractors from out of state for some information technology jobs because Maine doesn't have enough qualified people to do the work that needs to be done.
The "skills gap" is a national phenomenon, not just in Maine. Some economists argue that it is a result of stagnant middle-class wages over a generation. Usually, when there is a shortage of something it becomes more expensive and people are motivated to fill the need.
At least in Maine, however, this is not just a wage-scale problem.
The vacant tech jobs already pay more than other jobs that are available. That would be incentive enough to motivate Maine students if they knew what was out there when they were done with school.
It's up to businesses to communicate with students at all levels about the kinds of jobs that might be available, especially since those jobs might not have even existed when their parents and teachers were in school.
Dubyak has the right idea, calling on business leaders to get involved, offering paid internships and other forms of outreach. They also can help by making school more affordable with scholarships.
And they can speak up about Maine's education system, not only pointing out where it needs to improve, but also calling attention to the things that are being done right.
Unfair criticism heaped upon Maine schools and teachers by Gov. Paul LePage could have a chilling effect on businesses and workers who think about moving here.
The program envisioned by Dubyak and others could be a national model and bring some positive attention to our state.