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Updated: May 9, 2023

Dead River, EMCC tackle labor shortage with free training program

5 people posing in a line Courtesy / Dead River Co. From left, Eastern Maine Community College President Liz Russell; DRI-North instructor Lee Gerrish; Dead River Co. President and CEO Casey Cramton; DRI-North instructor Bill Bickford; and Maine Community College System President David Daigler.
DRI-North’s first class had 10 students. The program’s capacity is 12. New programs will roll out this summer and fall. For more information, click here.
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The inaugural class of newly trained heating fuel technicians was recently getting ready to graduate into the workforce, thanks to a partnership between Dead River Co. and Eastern Maine Community College.

“As a past graduate of a similar course myself, which I attended at Eastern Maine Community College some 33 years ago, this expansion of workforce training opportunities is very personal to me,” Casey Cramton, Dead River Co.’s president and CEO, said during a recent gathering to celebrate the company’s new training facility.

heating machinery
Courtesy / Dead River Co.
Dead River partnered with F.W. Webb Co. and the Granite Group, which contributed roughly $30,000 of heating equipment to the institute’s lab.

The workforce training facility, called Dead River Institute-North, is located at 1625 Hammond St. in Bangor. It offers workforce training programs at no cost to students through the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce.

Dead River is a  propane, heating oil, kerosene and equipment provider headquartered in South Portland. In 2018, the company launched its first such training facility, now called Dead River Institute-South, in Sanford.

The Sanford institute has grown every year since. It offers oil and propane technician apprenticeship programs, 200-hour oil-heat technician programs, and delivery driver training programs. 

The company began partnering with the Maine Community College System in 2021. 

In 2022 alone, DRI-South trained 140 participants; all are Dead River employees. 

Graduates can immediately leverage the training and credentials to enhance their careers or serve as an entry point if they are just entering the workforce. 

Built for beginners 

As a result of historically low unemployment, this and other industries have seen a statewide and national shortage of trained applicants. 

“Our partnership with Dead River is a perfect example of Eastern Maine’s role in promoting workforce development,” said Liz Russell, president of Eastern Maine Community College.

“This program really is designed for someone who is just starting out – you don’t have to have a lot of experience as a technician prior to coming here, you can take this class and get your license and be ready to work,” said Chris Lincoln from Millinocket, a student in DRI-North’s first 200-hour oil burner technician program.

Dead River acquired the 1,050-square-foot DRI-North facility last year as part of its acquisition of Maine Energy Inc. upon the retirement of the latter’s owner, Robert Cort.

Consolidation of the businesses left enough available space for the institute, although a fair amount of renovation was needed, said Cramton.

Renovations include demolition and replacing some floors and walls and some redesign. 

Lab partners

Once the interior shell was established, Dead River partnered with F.W. Webb Co. and the Granite Group, which provided heating equipment for the institute’s lab that allows students to work on the newest equipment as well as older makes.

“The value of the contributions from those two partners was roughly $30,000,” said Cramton. “It was significant.”

A classroom adjacent to the lab provides space for traditional instruction. 

“They take that instruction and walk into the lab and get their hands on the equipment,” he said.

The inaugural class kicked off in early April. The program takes five weeks. The 200-hour oil burner technician program at both DRI locations is conducted in partnership with the Maine Community College System and open to the public through Eastern Maine and Southern Maine community college enrollment.

Developing from within 

Like many other industries in Maine and beyond, Dead River has experienced a labor shortage for the past several years that still exists today. 

“We decided in 2018 that we were going to make some investments so that we could develop service technicians organically or from within rather than trying to find people who are already licensed, certified or experienced,” said Cramton. 

“The nice thing about where we are now, versus 2018, is that there are resources out there and lots of organizations trying to collaborate to address the workforce issues,” he said. “Collaboration is what makes this possible at DRI-North.”

Dead River employs about 275 service technicians across the four states in which it operates — and could use an additional 25 to 30, he said.

DRI-North’s first class had 10 students. The program’s capacity is 12. New programs will roll out this summer and fall. For more information, click here.

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