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June 27, 2003

For more information please contact:
Muriel Mosher
Tel: 207-623-0680

Secretary of Labor Awards Maine $3 Million Training Grant

AUGUSTA, ME - The U.S. Labor Department has awarded the Coastal Counties Workforce Board a $3 million grant, extended over a three-year period, to assist 385 incumbent engineers and scientists to update their technical skills to ensure that the State will retain its quality high-tech workforce.

Announcement of the grant was made by Rod Rodrigue, president of the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP). “This is one of the most exciting and important grants Maine has ever received,” Rodrigue said. “With these monies, we will be able to assist almost 400 engineers and scientists to upgrade their skills and keep them employed in Maine’s growing high-tech industries,” he added.

Without the grants program, Rodrigue explained, most engineers and scientists are forced to leave their jobs after five years because there is no program in place for them to stay current with ever changing and improving modern technology.

“The National Science Foundation has termed this situation as an ‘Irreversible Exit’,” Rodrigue said. “It is happening everywhere, but we decided to do something about it here in Maine, and we have partnered with the Coastal Counties Workforce Board in an effort to make a difference for Maine’s high-tech industry.”

“This is the first Department of Labor H-1B grant ever awarded to Maine,” said Michael Bourret, executive director of the six-county workforce board, “and it could not have come at a better time.”

Bourret said his organization constantly looks at improving workforce skills, but having enough funds to address those needs has been a problem in recent years. “We are constantly assisting the unemployed and dislocated workers, who have no where else to turn and this experience has taught us that we need to do a more proactive approach. We need to assist business by addressing skills deficits while workers are still on the job. We don’t usually think of the high-tech sector as needing skills improvement, but there is a definite gap in available training for scientists and engineers. In other parts of the country, this has translated into hiring foreign help to fill the positions,” Bourret said. “This program is our attempt to see that this doesn’t happen here,” he said. “Bottom line, we want to keep our high-tech workers working right here in Maine.”

That is also the overall goal of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (US DOL) Employment and Training Administration. “The 21st century workforce investment system must be demand-driven by the needs of the 21st century employer,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco. “Our goal is to match workers with the jobs employers need to fill and, in these economic times, meeting that goal often translates into assuring that employed workers are trained on emerging state-of-the-art technologies.” Maine is one of only five states receiving a total of $14.7 million awarded to workforce boards by the Department of Labor. “Competition for these funds is tremendous,” Rodrigue said, “so we are justifiably proud to be receiving this grant.”

Rodrigue said much credit for the grant has to be given to Claudia Follet, director for grants and partnerships for Maine MEP, and Bourret, both of whom worked on developing the concept and writing the grant. “What we have proposed is completely different from what others are doing,” Rodrigue said. “We are going to build a system that we hope will last forever in Maine. Our ambitious goal, in fact, is to ensure there will no longer be an ‘Irreversible Exit’ for scientists and engineers in Maine.”

In order for the system to work, a partnership will be developed between Maine MEP and Maine’s universities and colleges so that customized training will be set up for each of the 385 scientists and engineers targeted by the program. “This is going to be a very aggressive program,” Rodrigue said, “and we are going to work on a very pro-active basis to make sure we are up and running as soon as possible.”

Rodrigue estimates preliminary work and negotiations with all partners will take six to eight weeks. “Because the Maine MEP and the Coastal Counties Workforce Board constantly works with Maine employers, we are in a good position to get going on this quite quickly,” he said.

“In fact, there are many companies in Maine right now just waiting to help us get out of the gate with this training initiative,” Rodrigue added.

Coastal Counties, which serves Waldo, Knox, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Cumberland, and York counties, will act as fiscal agent for the program and that board will hold the grant monies, while Maine MEP will serve as the hands-on program operator.

“This is a great partnership,” Bourret said, “because Maine MEP will ensure that the high end training will be made available to scientists and engineers in a variety of firms and our board will work with other Workforce Boards in the state to make certain that the word gets out to the right employers. I am confident that our partnership is unique in the H-1B grant program and one that US DOL was obviously impressed with,”Bourret said.

“Everyone involved in this initiative is dedicated to making this program a success and is looking forward to the challenge of having our system become a template for other states and workforce boards to use in the future,” Rodrigue said.

The Maine MEP is an affiliate of the NIST under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2000 manufacturing and business “coaches” whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits, and enhanced global competitiveness. For more information on the Maine MEP program call 1-800-637-4634.