Maine’s Older Workforce Faces Cuts to Training Under Trump Proposal
Thursday, March 23, 2017 9:26 AM
Among the proposed cuts under President Trump’s budget that will affect Mainers is the elimination of a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) program that retrains older workers for new jobs.
The now-closed Verso Mill in Bucksport. (Photo by C. Parrish)
A mill employee who was laid off when Verso Paper in Bucksport closed in 2014 took a career assessment test that showed he would make a good funeral director. It turned out he was a natural at helping people solve problems when they are under extreme stress. He wasn’t interested, but with retraining he landed a job requiring the same skills: working for the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) as part of a rapid response team that helps other laid-off workers figure out the next steps to finding a new job.
He was one of 245 paper mill workers who were trained with U.S. Department of Labor funds for new jobs after being laid off in the wake of mill closures at Verso, Great Northern Paper and Lincoln Paper. They now work in jobs that include fixing heating and cooling systems, accounting, real estate, information technology and health care.
The average age of millworkers laid off in Bucksport was 58.
Maine has the oldest population of any state in the country and a growing need to train adults in mid-life for new types of jobs.
The president’s budget proposes a 21-percent decrease ($2.5 billion) in funding to the U.S. DOL, including cuts to training programs for disadvantaged youth, $11 million for worker safety, and an intent to turn the responsibility of funding training back to the states, according to analysis of the labor budget by political news site The Hill.
The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a program for low-income, unemployed workers over the age of 55, is also targeted for elimination under the White House budget. The program provides training in computers, information technology, retail and office skills so workers can effectively make the transition to other kinds of work, according to Maine DOL spokesperson Julie Rabinowitz.
Associates for Training Development (A4TD.org) administers SCSEP for Maine.
Eliminating SCSEP nationwide would save $434 million, according to the White House.
Even though the low unemployment rates in Maine make it a job seeker’s market right now, workers who lack appropriate skills cannot walk in the door and land a skilled job, said Rabinowitz. Many need training, either on the job or in class. Skilled workers for the growing health care and information technology sectors in Maine are particularly lacking, according to Rabinowitz.
Under current funding, the US DOL supports those efforts, both in terms of training for employees and in providing incentives for employers to train employees on the job.
And it is not just about training laid-off workers for today’s occupations. A growing number of older Mainers will need or want to work later in life, according to Maine DOL data. Research indicates the slice of the workforce made up of Mainers over the age of 64 will grow by a third over the next five years as many of the jobs they know how to do become obsolete.
Rabinowitz said older workers who lost jobs as a result of foreign trade are eligible under the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) for retraining or on-the-job training with wage subsidies provided for a limited time until workers become skilled in their new profession.
The state received $1.9 million in federal TAA funding in 2016.
Of the 245 laid-off millworkers from Bucksport, Millinocket and Lincoln who took advantage of the training programs, 23 of them retrained for high-demand jobs in the health care field and another 26 retrained for computer, business and administrative jobs where technology skills are crucial.
DOL funding also goes to low-income workers with age-related disabilities, like hearing or vision loss, for retraining under the Vocational Rehabilitation Program (VRP).
Rabinowitz said the Maine DOL has not yet received details on cuts to TAA or VRP funding under the White House budget.
One aspect of job training that Trump has presided over before will get a budget boost: spending on apprenticeships, which the White House said has shown proven results, according to The Hill.