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March 4, 2024

8,000 workers are needed by Maine’s defense industry, so employers, schools are gearing up

person in hardhat at computer monitors and machinery COURTESY / GENERAL DYNAMICS BATH IRON WORKS In this photo from 2023, Les Waltz, a 59-year employee of Bath Iron Works, activates the burning machine that cut the first sheet of steel for the future USS John E. Kilmer (DDG 134).

Over the next five years, Maine defense contractors are looking to add 8,000 skilled workers and to advance the abilities of 10,000 workers already employed by the state's industry.

To reach goals like that, the industry has joined with the U.S. Navy and Maine’s higher ed organizations to develop advanced workforce training programs through the Maine Defense Industry Alliance, a new nonprofit coalition.

“Defense-sector manufacturing requires a vast array of skills from design and engineering to precision machining and sophisticated construction techniques,” said Charles Krugh, president of General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. "Employers like BIW need to have a seat at the table with our educational partners to ensure the training provided to Mainers prepares them for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

"Working collaboratively through MDIA to develop a strong pipeline of skilled people will help meet the industry's workforce needs in the years to come and support our nation’s defense."

The announcement of the alliance was made Friday at York County Community College’s Sanford instructional site. The Maine Community College System said the coalition aims to coordinate efforts to attract and train thousands of employees for jobs in the state’s defense industrial base.

“We now have a powerful public-private partnership that is Maine’s coordinating body for workforce development for Maine’s defense manufacturers,” said David Daigler, MCCS’s president and co-chair of the alliance’s board of directors.

people standing in a line around podium
Courtesy / Maine Community College System
The Maine Community College System hosted the announcement of a new public-private alliance aims to coordinate efforts to attract and train employees for the state’s defense industry.

“The Maine Defense Industry Alliance will put training opportunities on the fast track and create new opportunities for the state’s defense employers and Maine’s workforce.”

The first round of funding for the alliances includes $3.5 million toward a $6.5 million project to create a new welding lab and expand manufacturing and trade programs at York County Community College. There is an immediate, pressing need in Maine to hire more people trained in precision machining, welding, marine design and manufacturing, according to a news release.

“This should be the first of many MDIA projects that will boost resources across the state to increase workforce training for good defense sector jobs in Maine,” Daigler said. 

Founding members of the alliance are, from education: MCCS; Maine Maritime Academy; the University of Maine System and the Roux Institute of Northeastern University; from industry: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; and Pratt & Whitney North Berwick Aero Systems; and from government: the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development; Maine Department of Education; Maine Department of Labor; and Maine International Trade Center.

Thousands needed

In total, the defense sector employs more than 20,000 Maine people at over 150 companies, including contractors and subcontractors. Defense spending in Maine totaled $3.2 billion in 2021.

Over the next five years, defense companies in the state are seeking to add between 1,200 and 1,700 skilled workers each year. 

Maine’s largest defense contractors — General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Pratt & Whitney and Navy-run Portsmouth Naval Shipyard — are especially short on highly skilled employees.

When including replacements for retiring workers and natural turnover, those three employers alone anticipate needing to fill over 7,500 positions.

The alliance will focus on recruiting more people into the defense industry, delivering a wide array of training opportunities and upgrading the skills of the incumbent workforce.

York County program

The initial outcome of the collaboration is $5 million in funding from the Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base program, executed by BlueForge Alliance to launch MDIA and expand manufacturing and trade programs at York County Community College in Wells.

In addition to expanding existing programs, YCCC will build a 10,000-square-foot addition for a state-of-the-art welding lab at the college’s Sanford facility at 60 Community Drive, creating the YCCC Center for Excellence in Manufacturing and Trades. 

YCCC will fund the $6.5 million project with $3.5 million in Submarine Industrial Base funding provided to the alliance, along with $1.5 million in YCCC funds and $1.5 million in federal funding secured by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King through last year’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act.

“This alliance is an investment in bridging the gap between public and private sectors that can impact businesses and colleges from Aroostook to York counties and will boost our state’s economy and defense workforce, as well as our national security,” said King.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Navy approved funding of more than $34 million to help Bath Iron Works expand its workforce.

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