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August 13, 2020

Maine community colleges respond to crisis, see spike in workforce training

COURTESY / MAINE COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM Hundreds of students are enrolled in scores of new, free, online health care training programs established by the Maine Community College System in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Demand for short-term workforce training is at an all-time high at Maine’s community colleges, which saw a 300% increase in trainee graduates over the last two years.

That figure represents 3,625 people trained in the fiscal year ending June 30, according to a news release.

Hundreds of students currently enrolled in health care training programs that are new, free and offered online.

One of the programs set up through the system's Maine Quality Centers will train as many as 220 people for jobs at Puritan Medical Products’ new Pittsfield facility, which is ramping up production of nasal swabs used in coronavirus testing.

“In the midst of a trying time, Maine’s community colleges are delivering on their promise to find new and creative ways to educate and train people so they’re prepared to step into good jobs right away,” said David Daigler, president of the Maine Community College System.

When the coronavirus hit and waves of layoffs swept the state, the MCCS Maine Quality Centers quickly added new, free, online training programs for in-demand jobs in health care. 

The programs prepare graduates for jobs such as medical records technician, pharmacy technician, medical lab worker and medical insurance specialist.

“We knew we had to act quickly to help people find jobs and help businesses find qualified workers,” said Dan Belyea, the community college system's chief workforce development officer. The Maine Quality Centers programming is "designed to respond to just these kind of sudden fluctuations in workforce demand — providing trainees with targeted training that’s available for free, nearby, and in a timely fashion.”

Demand for the training has been “phenomenal,” Daigler added. The programs launched soon after Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order in April loosening restrictions on how Maine Quality Centers job training funds are spent.

Job pipeline

Of the 47 new health care training programs launched since the governor’s order, 36 are full. The training generally takes five to 12 months to complete.

“The health care training means we’re building a pipeline for hundreds of newly skilled Mainers to graduate in the next few months and step right into vacant jobs in the health care industry,” Daigler said.

The COVID safety training programs, developed in partnership with HospitalityMaine, are free, online courses that take just hours to complete. Workers in the tourism industry can earn badges in four areas: restaurant readiness, lodging readiness, stress management and "de-escalation," or conflict resolution.

“As a restaurant manager in an extremely busy, tourist restaurant in Acadia National Park, I will use the readiness material to be prepared for operations this summer,” a graduate wrote in a review of the training program. “I will also use this information in order to train my staff for when we begin full service.”

Another graduate said the training would be part of “our daily work to keep our guests, coworkers, and our families safe. Understanding the guidelines in this material will help me to keep my customers safe, and limit my own potential exposure to the virus, in turn protecting my family.”

Logging and welding

In addition to the COVID-related programs, Maine Quality Centers is re-introducing several traditional workforce programs that were suspended due to COVID-19. In July and August, classes began for a popular mechanized logging operations training program at Northern Maine Community College and a longstanding welding and manufacturing program at Southern Maine Community College.

Short-term workforce training is at an all-time high at Maine’s community colleges.

The annual number of graduates from Maine Quality Centers programs systemwide was 3,625 people in the fiscal year ended June 30; 1,602 people in FY 2019; and 897 people in FY 2018.

Maine’s seven community colleges have the lowest tuition and fees in New England and offer nearly 300 career and transfer programs of study, customized training for business and industry, and continuing education. Each fall, the system enrolls some 17,000 students. Annually, the seven colleges serve more than 27,000 individuals.

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