SOUTH PORTLAND — A new $60 million investment in workforce training will be used to expand access to degree and certificate programs at low or no cost for more than 24,000 Maine residents over the next four years, state officials and education leaders announced Tuesday.

The Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce, a virtual center being launched by the Maine Community College System, will pool resources and funding from the public and private sectors to coordinate short-term workforce training initiatives and speed the delivery of critical education to both trainees and business partners, the system announced Tuesday.

The center is being funded with a four-year $15.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, $35 million in federal COVID relief money from the state’s Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, and $10 million in matching funds from the private sector, other grants and established workforce funding.

“Combining all of these resources will put together $60 million for Maine people and it will put all our workforce development tools together in one place,” Maine Community College System President David Daigler said during a news conference at Southern Maine Community College.

Maine has grappled for decades with workforce shortages that have only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Like many states around the country, we’re struggling with workforce challenges in nearly all sectors,” Gov. Janet Mills said at Tuesday’s event. “Not a day goes by that we don’t get a message from some employer saying, ‘I can’t find anybody to work this job,’ and equally from people wanting to work but who can’t find childcare or who can’t find transportation or other means of accessing a job.”

The Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, announced by Mills in May, invests $1.13 billion in federal relief funds in economic recovery, growth and infrastructure revitalization. Mills said that using $35 million of that funding for the community colleges’ workforce initiatives will allow people to find good-paying jobs for the long term.

“Like many states around the country, we’re struggling with workforce challenges in nearly all sectors,” Gov. Janet Mills said at Tuesday’s event. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Using private and public funds, this new workforce development initiative will make it easier for Maine people to access training by bringing together various aspects of our adult education system into a single, logical and accessible online platform,” Mills said.

Training through the center will be focused on the unemployed and underemployed who lack the skills needed to compete, front-line workers who need additional training to remain qualified and advance, and more than 150,000 Maine adults who have some post-secondary education but no degree or professional credential.

Some aspects will build off community college initiatives that are in place at the Maine Quality Centers, the short-term workforce training arm of the community college system. The centers received a $3.6 million grant from the Alfond Foundation in 2018 for a major workforce training expansion to deliver free short-term training in four key industries: healthcare, information technology, construction, and manufacturing and the trades.

DEMAND HAS SKYROCKETED

Demand for those programs skyrocketed last year, when 6,300 people completed training programs through the centers, representing an increase of 73 percent from the year before.

“When we saw what the community college system is doing and has done with our first grant … it was time to double down on our community college investment,” said Greg Powell, chair of the board of trustees for the Alfond Foundation. “This is a transformative moment.”

Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation, said at Tuesday’s event, “This is a transformative moment.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The $15.5 million from the foundation will provide funding for the center to continue to provide free or discounted short-term training for more than 13,000 people, primarily front-line workers seeking advanced skills or credentials.

The state funds, meanwhile, will become available Oct. 18, although workforce training covered by that money already has launched. “We’re off and running,” Daigler said. “If you have skills you need to be developed for your organization, (Chief Workforce Development Officer) Dan Belyea is sitting over here and he’s ready to talk to you.”

The public and private funds are expected to be put to use in three stages over the next four years. In the first stage, the center will serve about 11,100 Mainers displaced or left behind in low-wage employment by delivering short-term pre-hire training, as well as stipends to help cover lost wages and other essentials.

In the second stage, the center expects to serve Mainers in front-line non-managerial jobs who need ongoing training to align their skills with the current economy. About 9,900 workers will receive training at community colleges, workplaces and online to obtain new credentials, and the center will use data to develop the program.

Finally, the center will deliver college courses to 3,200 people with some college education but no degree, and will offer financial and academic support to help these adults complete a credential that has value in the labor market.

FIVEFOLD EXPANSION

Daigler said the number of people being served in total – more than 24,000 – represents a five-fold expansion from the system’s current short-term workforce training. “It’s very significant,” he said.

The center will have a major goal of creating new pathways so people getting short-term training can easily continue their educations through the pursuit of certificates, advanced certificates or degrees. It also will work with businesses to ensure training is tailored to employment needs, and will invest $1.2 million in a Remote Work for ME project providing rural residents with free training so they can pursue remote work opportunities.

Bath Iron Works is one of more than 80 businesses that already have so-called “compact” agreements to partner with the community college system to address workforce needs. Jon Mason, vice president of human resources at BIW, said Tuesday’s announcement will allow the shipyard to expand on existing training programs in manufacturing, welding, marine design and leadership development.

“We have these concepts that we’ve demonstrated already work,” Mason said. “They’ve delivered us a lot of employees and the retention rates we get from these programs are better than just regular hiring, so it already works. Now I would say, (this allows us to) take this model we have that works and scale it out, not just for the benefit of Bath Iron Works but for the broader manufacturing and construction industry in Maine.”


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