AUBURN — It’s no secret that Maine desperately needs skilled tradespeople, and the pay is better than it’s ever been.
According to Classet, a company that connects industry and students to new job opportunities and paid apprenticeships in the skilled trades, a person could end up being paid more than the average college graduate.
There are basically two routes to acquiring these skills: learn as you go in the field, progress slowly, or take a two-year course in one of the many fields at a community college at little or no cost. Some businesses in the area may pay for training or certifications in addition to already generous benefits, paid vacations, and pension plan contributions.
Elmet Technologies in Lewiston has a tuition reimbursement program for current employees and has approximately 10 Central Maine Community College graduates.
Maine’s unemployment rate remains at just over 3%, with a majority of economists saying they don’t expect the situation to change much in the next year or more. This is because there are still more jobs open than there are applicants to fill them, which means those whose skills employers are looking for are in high demand and may demand a higher wage or salary. .
Construction, hospitality, healthcare and precision machining are some of the segments of the local economy where skilled workers are in demand. For those looking to tap into the demand and change the course of their career in any of these fields or others, the answer might be at Central Maine Community College.
Curry Caputo, who chairs the building construction technology program, said enrollment in the program has doubled this year. This is despite the reality that the school is competing with companies desperate to fill jobs with the same group of students, who he says have dollar signs in their eyes. “They want to make a trade, they want to make money out there in the business – that’s one thing that drives them here.”
Another motivating factor for students is the state’s free scholarship for high school graduates in the classes of 2020 to 2023.
Students can choose from two program degrees, an internal track and a construction track. Caputo said the boarding students spend their two years in the classroom workshop working on projects and in the outdoor classroom where there are five life-size foundations on which they build life-size houses.
Caputo said the construction track matches students with an employer, either a large residential contractor or a commercial contractor. They work 40 hours a week, are salaried and covered by insurance.
“The big difference is I tell them I can’t control what they teach you at work,” he said. “They’re going to teach you what you need to know to be successful in their crew.”
At the end of four semesters, Caputo estimated that 80% of students get out into the field and work for residential or commercial construction. Some go to four-year schools, where he said a former student earned a degree in civil engineering, while others seek sales, design or even estimating jobs in industry.
Others come to develop the skills so they can confidently work on their own homes and projects, while still others use the program as part of a career change.
What are the prospects of finding a job after the training?
“Right now,” Caputo said, “given the current climate, their outlook is close to 100 percent.”
Jacob Dwelley is a second-year Lincoln student enrolled in the Precision Machinery Technology program. He said he liked working with his hands and was not interested in a more traditional academic path.
A welding class in high school piqued his interest. At CMCC, he said he learned how to make things out of metal. “The easiest way to describe it,” he said, “is to take a piece of raw material and cut it into something that can actually be used.”
What will he do when he graduates?
Get into the industry and find out which area interests him the most. He is considering the aerospace field because, he explains, they work with tighter tolerances, and he plans to continue his education after working for a few years.
Outside of school, Dwelley works at a machine shop in Bangor where the owner has a job for him if he wishes. Having choices is one of the benefits of learning an in-demand skill.
CMCC is working on a partnership with the Lewiston Regional Technical Center to bring high school students to the community college campus to take courses in precision machine technology. There are also overlaps in culinary programs.
Yes, the hospitality industry is severely understaffed, and that’s where the CMCC’s Culinary Arts program comes in. Recently, the students sounded like a quartet of violinists – carefully sliding knives over whetstones in unison. This is part of a lesson in knife skills.
“We will (learn) what you need to get out there and work in the industry,” said program president Austin Perreault. “Given any recipe, any technique, you should be able to figure out how to do it walking into any kitchen.”
Perreault said that without any training or degree, anyone can jump straight into the job market and learn the technical side of working in a kitchen, but they won’t understand why. This is what the formal school gives students, he said.
What students can expect from the culinary program are basic skills, chicken making, cooking methodologies, such as the five mother sauces of traditional French cuisine, and an à la carte cooking experience in a kitchen. Students must also do an “externship”, usually with a restaurant of their choice anywhere in the state.
Kaitlyn Baker is a second-year culinary student at Skowhegan. She has a very clear vision of what she expects from the program. She is part of a changing landscape in commercial kitchens and the hospitality industry in general, which Perreault says is increasingly opening up to women in key positions.
Baker said she originally wanted to pursue criminal justice, but she got a taste for culinary arts in a high school class and decided it was in her blood. “I’ve always loved cooking,” she says. “Pastry is my specialty. My mother always taught me how to grow up.
She started a small baking business on the side and managed to bake more than 40 dozen macaroons over the summer, with plans to make even more. “I’m going to Thomas (College) next year. I want to take some business courses and start my own bakery. »
Not all skilled trades require people to work with their hands. Computer-aided design students, for example, work primarily with software to design plans for buildings and machinery.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way houses are different from each other,” said Peighton Theriault of Sabattus. “I’m a really big person at interior design – matching patterns and colors and stuff, so I just thought this would be a great head start in the engineering world.”
She is a second-year student in the Architectural and Engineering Technology program at the CMCC. Department chairman Timothy Braun said they have an in-studio class that is basically a problem-solving exercise. Students are tasked with designing a residence or commercial building.
“So the idea here is that they take a problem, solve the problem, and come up with a solution at the end of the problem,” Braun said. “And each student has a different solution, each student has a different point of view.”
This does not mean that graduates will sit behind a computer all the time. There’s surveying, interior design, and a host of job opportunities. Some students move on to four-year programs in engineering or other subjects. That’s what Thériault plans to do next year, even though his father owns a construction and landscaping business. She hopes to go to the University of Maine at Augusta and see where it takes her.
All two-year degree programs lead to an associate degree and require certain core liberal arts courses such as math and writing. Maine students will most certainly graduate with many job or career options ahead of them and a starting salary of $20 per hour or more plus benefits.
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