Displaced workers at Jay mill can use $1M funds for free education at two Maine community colleges

December 18, 2020

AUGUSTA, ME — Workers who lost their jobs at a Jay paper mill after an April explosion can get free training and classes at two local community colleges, officials announced today.

Mill owner Pixelle Specialty Solutions announced the creation of a $1million education fund for the workers last week. Today, officials at Pixelle and the Maine Community College System said the workers can use those funds at two area colleges: Central Maine Community College in Auburn, and Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield/Hinckley.

“This educational opportunity that Pixelle Specialty Solutions has set up for its displaced workers is amazing. It’s a powerful new model that will give these hard-working Mainers the ability to access retraining at no cost to them,” said Dan Belyea, chief workforce development officer at MCCS.

The 177 displaced workers must select one of three pathways to pursue, and enroll no later than July 5, 2021. The options are:

  • Associate degree (2-year programs) in over 40 areas of study
  • Certificate (1-year programs) in over 20 areas of study
  • Short-term workforce training (1-week to 1-month programs) in specific fields related to healthcare, information technology, or technical trades

The former Pixelle workers decide which college to attend, and the cost of tuition, fees and materials will be covered by the Pixelle education fund. Pixelle sent information about the program to the affected workers today.

“This is an incredible $1 million gift to the people affected and the entire region. We’re eager to welcome these students and get them the training they need for their next step,” MCCS President David Daigler said.

“We partnered with Maine’s community colleges because we want these workers to have easy access to a broad range of high-quality retraining options. For some, that will be short-term training for a very specific job, for others it might be pursuing a two-year degree that launches them in an entirely new career direction,” said Eric Hanson, Pixelle mill manager in Jay. “Our community benefits, the workers get the training they choose and our local businesses know the local pool of skilled workers is growing.”

Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said the initiative is also a big boost for local businesses.

“Other companies within our region are struggling to find well-qualified employees,” LaFreniere said. “Offering free, local education and training is a game-changer for these workers and our community. It’s going to open up so many opportunities for them and for local business owners actively looking for skilled workers.”

MCCS is also working with the Maine Department of Labor and its Rapid Response Team to provide ongoing assistance to the dislocated workers. The Rapid Response Team has been working one-on-one with laid off workers, providing them with information and helping them identify next steps.

Pixelle Specialty Solutions, based in Pennsylvania, employs approximately 250 people at the Jay mill.