3,625 workers trained last year, a 300 percent increase over two years ago
AUGUSTA – Demand for short-term workforce training is at an all-time high at Maine’s community colleges, which saw a 300 percent increase in trainee graduates over the last two years.
That figure – 3,625 people trained in the fiscal year ending June 30 – doesn’t capture the hundreds of students currently enrolled in scores of new, free, online health care training programs.
“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,” Maine Community College System (MCCS) President David Daigler said.
When the coronavirus hit and waves of layoffs swept the state, the MCCS Maine Quality Centers (MQC) quickly added new, free, online training programs for in-demand jobs in the healthcare industry. 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, MCCS chief workforce development officer. “MQC 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.”
“The demand for this training has been phenomenal,” Daigler added. The programs launched soon after Governor Janet Mills signed an executive order in April loosening restrictions on how MQC job training funds are spent.
Of the 47 new healthcare training programs launched since the governor’s order, 36 are full. The training generally takes 5 to 12 months to complete.
“The healthcare 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 healthcare 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.
“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.”
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 long-standing welding and manufacturing program at Southern Maine Community College. MQC has also launched a new manufacturing program to train up to 220 people for jobs at Puritan Medical Products’ new Pittsfield facility, which is ramping up production of nasal swabs used in coronavirus testing.
The annual number of graduates from MQC programs systemwide are: 3,625 people in the fiscal year 2020, ending June 30; 1,602 people in fiscal year 2019; and 897 people in fiscal year 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, MCCS enrolls some 17,000 students. Annually, the seven colleges serve more than 27,000 individuals through degree programs, customized training, and opportunities for lifelong learning.