By Jim Baumer
Workforce issues continue to garner the attention of Maine's business leaders. With an aging demographic (Maine's median age is 41.5 years and is the oldest median age in the country), challenges wrought by out-migration, and the state's public workforce system in transition, Maine sits at an important crossroads for its economic future. The situation is similar in other rural states.
Aging Worker Initiative
One national strategy that is working is the identification of key segments of the workforce population, both as a talent pool and also, for targeted training initiatives aimed at better preparing people for available jobs. One recent project was the Aging Worker Initiative (AWI), funded by a grant award from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Maine was one of 11 regions receiving the award; local recipients also included the Vermont Associates for Training and Development [PDF]. The award sought to expand the workforce investment system's understanding about how to best serve the older worker population and develop models to share with all local workforce investment areas. Its ultimate goal was providing better, more expansive services to older Americans for years to come.
Disability Population's Value to Businesses
Another key workforce demographic in Maine and across the country is people with disabilities. Consideration of this population makes sense on many levels, primarily, from a business perspective. Here are a few things that you might not know about people with disabilities and the value they offer businesses:
- One in five Americans have a disability
- As customers, people with disabilities represent an aggregate income of $220 billion nationally, and an annual buying power of $3 trillion. As such, they are the 3rd largest market segment in the U.S.
- Workers with disabilities have a higher retention rate and are more loyal to their employers
- Hiring a person with a disability can reduce hiring and training costs
Businesses employing people with disabilities can turn social issues into business opportunities. Some tangible benefits are lowering of costs, higher revenues, and increased profits.
BLN - Disability at Work
The Maine Business Leadership Network was launched in April, joining Connecticut and Rhode Island as New England affiliates of the USBLN, a national organization that serves as the collective voice for over 50 Business Leadership Network affiliates across North America, representing over 5,000 employers.
A primary goal of the affiliates is to serve as a catalyst in raising awareness, providing opportunities, and developing a strong employer-to-employer model, focused on increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to be successful in accessing employment.
Massachusetts doesn't have a BLN chapter, but the Work Without Limits initiative is a public/private partnership that brings together families, policy researchers, policy makers, service planners, employment service providers, employers, and other stakeholders. Their mission is to strengthen the state's workforce and advance work opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities in Massachusetts.
Maine's BLN affiliate brought on their first director at the beginning of August (that's me) to ramp up efforts and provide leadership for the new organization. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce serves as the affiliate's host partner, with other key state partners including the Bureau of Employment Services/Maine Department of Labor, the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Procter & Gamble / Tambrands is the coalition's lead employer. Currently, there are eight new business partners who have made a verbal commitment to joining our partnership.
The Maine BLN is working towards developing a broad-based partnership promoting business-centered approaches that include:
- Collaborating with employers
- Promoting best practices
- Providing information and resources
- Enabling greater access for qualified individuals with disabilities to enter and succeed in the workplace