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May 28, 2024

With surging demand for skilled labor, Maine Construction Academy quadruples programs

A participant in the Maine Construction Academy is working with steel beams set in a mound of dirt. Photo / Courtesy AGC Maine Earlier this month, students from the Kennebec Valley Community College cohort of AGC Maine’s construction academy visited Bangor contractor N.S. Giles Foundations Inc., where they learned how to build concrete forms for a foundation.

Heading into its second year, the Maine Construction Academy is hosting a total of 15 construction immersion programs this summer, up from four when the academy rolled out last summer.

The academy — in partnership with local schools, technical centers and Maine employers — provides pre-apprenticeship pathways through four weeks of instruction in both the classroom and hands-on experiences this summer.

The academy is a program of Associated General Contractors of Maine.

“With the recent commitments to investment in our state’s transportation infrastructure, climate resiliency, clean energy and vertical building construction, these trainings and career opportunities will provide a solid foundation for the future of our workforce,” said Kelly Flagg, executive director of AGC Maine.

In its inaugural year, the academy’s four programs were held in Biddeford, Westbrook, Bath and Brewer and enrolled 49 students in all, Flagg told Mainebiz.

This year, three of the programs have already run. Over the winter, there were two youth cohorts at Tri-County Technical School in Dexter and one adult class offered at the Asylum Seeker Transitional Housing Program in Saco, said Flagg. One is underway now at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. 

Three students with the Maine Construction Academy learn how to build a foundation. They're looking at tools next to some steel set in the ground.
Photo / Courtesy AGC Maine
The construction immersion program offers students classroom and hands-on instruction.

The programs ramp up significantly in June when schools let out, with locations in Hiram, Dexter, Caribou, Brewer, Houlton, Bath, Lincoln, Gorham, Norway and two in South Portland. 

This year, over 250 students applied and over 175 will be participating. 

The construction immersion program offers students classroom and hands-on instruction. Upon graduation, they receive several industry recognized credentials, including a training certification from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, certifications for construction first aid and CPR, and a “Core Badge” from the National Center for Construction Education and Research that demonstrates basic construction skills.

The programs conclude with resume preparation, a class on money management and guaranteed interviews with participating contractors. 

Students also have the opportunity to earn a stipend during the program and are outfitted with hard hats, steel-toed boots and other personal protective equipment for the job site.

The academy is geared toward growing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship opportunities in Maine. AGC Maine and several partners worked together to roll out the program in the summer of 2023 and expand it this year.

Investment in labor

To date, AGC Maine has invested approximately $600,000 on development, marketing and launching the construction immersion programs, and an additional $200,000 to purchase two high-tech crane simulators to train new crane operators using virtual simulations before they get in the seat of a crane, said Flagg.

The academy is funded, into mid-2026, by a combination of sources that include grants from the Maine Department of Labor, the Governors Energy Office Clean Energy Partnership and said gift from the Skowhegan Savings Foundation.

“Local contractors need skilled talent and those participating in the program will receive professional development that sets them up for a very rewarding career path,” said John Witherspoon, board chair of the Skowhegan Savings Foundation.

It’s still too early to track how many of the program participants go on to enter the construction industry, Flagg said. Many graduates of last year’s programs were still in high school. AGC Maine plans to check in with them through graduation and into the following year. 

There were two who worked full-time as apprentices during their senior year and have been attending school remotely. Two other students are returning to the program this year, in order to prepare themselves for work and to re-introduce themselves to employers. 

Of the 17 adult participants in the program offered at the Asylum Seeker Transitional Housing Program in Saco, all have entered the construction industry as heavy highway laborers and bridge carpenters, with several additionally participating in career and technical education programs or two- and four-year college opportunities.

Chartered in 1951, the Associated General Contractors of Maine is the state’s largest construction industry trade association. The Association maintains an office in Augusta and has over 185 members statewide. Member companies include general contractors, sub-contractors and service and supply providers.

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