Maine Voices: State’s community colleges are innovating to help meet workforce needs

Cheryl RauNews, Portland Press Herald

BY JEAN GINN MARVIN, SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD

As summer and Maine’s hospitality, construction and other key industries have kicked into high gear, no one needs to be told that our state faces a serious workforce shortage. The evidence is all around us in help‑wanted listings, offers of signing bonuses and abbreviated business hours. The good news is that unemployment in Maine is at an all‑time low. The bad news is that too many Maine people are still living in poverty.

Without the education and training they need to gain a foothold in the economy, they – and much of our state – will continue to struggle. A lack of skilled workers means that the state’s economy has little, if any, ability to grow.

As the innkeeper at a large resort in southern Maine, I am deeply aware of Maine’s workforce challenges. They too often keep me awake at night. What gives me hope is the other work I do as chair of the Maine Community College System.

We are not easily or quickly going to turn around the forces that contribute to Maine’s workforce challenges: an aging population, not enough adults with the skills and credentials most in demand by Maine employers, and college attendance and completion rates that lag the rest of New England. But Maine’s seven community colleges are building responses to these challenges that, in both the short‑ and long‑term, have the potential to bridge the state’s skills gap and fuel greater economic growth.

  • Southern Maine Community College and Central Maine Community College are teaming up with Sunday River Resort on a culinary apprenticeship program that will provide the resort with the skilled workers it needs for its restaurants and food outlets. About 15 employees will begin taking culinary classes in September. The program will be the only apprenticeship of its kind in New England and will enable participants to become Certified Culinarians through the American Culinary Federation.
  • A new program at CMCC makes it possible for students in the college’s building construction technology program to combine classroom and lab time with employment in the field. Students are able to earn a degree, gain industry‑recognized skills, and be paid for their on‑the‑job training. In exchange, employers get highly trained employees who have the skills needed to advance in the industry.
  • At the same time, SMCC’s new Construction Institute offers a series of courses focused on specific skills that are in high demand. Participants in the first group of trainees were unemployed or underemployed Mainers whose tuition was covered by a grant from the college system’s Maine Quality Centers. Their entry into the industry will help ease a severe shortage of skilled construction workers.
  • York County Community College offers seven different semester start times to better accommodate work and family commitments, speed time to completion of a degree or certificate, and respond to employer needs. For those who work in the hospitality industry, the college now offers culinary, hospitality and management courses that start in late October, after the tourism season winds down.
  • CMCC and Eastern Maine Community College are leading the college system’s effort to develop industry recognized badges, or micro‑credentials, that will allow individuals to gain sets of skills that are in high demand by employers. Once earned, these badges can be combined for academic credit.
  • Northern Maine Community College has launched a water treatment technology program that is designed to address the growing need for qualified water and wastewater treatment plant operators in communities across Maine.
  • And this fall, a new Commercial Drivers License Training Center at EMCC will serve students and trainees at EMCC and eventually at CMCC, Kennebec Valley Community College and Washington County Community College. The center will help ensure that businesses across Maine have the drivers they need to deliver their goods.

Each of these innovative programs has been designed in partnership with local employers to address specific workforce needs, and each seeks to provide more Maine people with affordable access to the skills and education they need to build a more prosperous future.

On their own, these initiatives will not solve all of Maine’s workforce challenges, but I am sleeping a little easier knowing they are underway and that the state’s community colleges are on the job.


About the Author

Jean Ginn Marvin is innkeeper at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. A former state legislator, she serves as chair of the Maine Community College System board of trustees.