AUGUSTA, ME — A $535,000 grant from Ascendium Education Group to The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges is seeding a $1.2 million Remote Work for ME project at Maine’s community colleges. The project provides rural Maine residents with free training so they can pursue remote work opportunities.
The grant, supplemented with $400,000 from the Maine Community College System, $208,000 from the Foundation and $75,000 from John T. Gorman Foundation, will provide training for more than 700 people over the next three years.
The announcement comes amid a nationwide shift in attitudes about remote work, and as Maine officials pledge to invest $129 million in federal funds into internet expansion, which will greatly increase the ability of rural Mainers to participate in remote work.
“Over the years Maine has tried a variety of ways to bring jobs to rural communities. Through the advancement of technology, along with the support of employers, we can now connect urban-based companies with skilled workers working remotely. This is a win-win for both Maine employers and rural workers,” said John Fitzsimmons, president of The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges.
Remote Work for ME courses begin in January 2022. All training is free for participants, with scholarships available for computers, related software, and internet connectivity on an as-needed basis.
The bulk of the instruction will be six- to nine-month-long courses for people living in rural Maine, preparing them for jobs conducive to remote work, such as medical transcription, IT support, customer service representative, administrative assistants and financial services. There will also be a certificate course for how to be a skilled remote worker, and a certificate course for supervisors on how to lead a remote team of workers.
Demand for this kind of focused training is increasing as industry leaders shift to remote or hybrid schedules. The number of permanent remote workers is expected to double in 2021, according to a survey from Enterprise Technology Research.
“There is a cultural transformation taking place in the workplace. There is no turning back,” said Maine Community College System President David Daigler. “Workers and employers saw what was possible during the pandemic, and for many of them remote work is not only possible, but preferable.”
Global Workplace Analytics projects that 25% to 30% of the workforce will be working remotely multiple days a week by the end of 2021. Further, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that remote workers can save up to $4,000 per year due to lower food costs, fuel costs, parking and car maintenance. A typical employer can save about $11,000 a year for every employee who works remotely half of the time, the group said, due to lower cost of office space, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and less turnover.
The program and training materials were developed with input from major Maine employers, including Unum, L.L.Bean, Bangor Savings Bank, and MaineHealth, each of which adopted remote work schedules for large Maine-based workforces during the pandemic. As part of the program, MCCS is establishing the Maine Advisory Council on Remote Working with business leaders to provide ongoing guidance and feedback.
For L.L.Bean, which traditionally hires more than 800 seasonal holiday employees for customer order calls, the pandemic meant they had to not only interview and hire remotely, they also had to train new employees remotely and ensure a seamless work-from-home operation throughout the busy holiday season.
“Last year, remote work became a necessity for our company, and we would not have been able to make it through the holiday season without a highly trained remote staff,” said Sarah Cox, vice president of Human Resources at L.L.Bean, which employees more than 4,000 people globally. “Remote work is here to stay, and this initiative is an important investment in the Maine economy as a way to reimagine the future workforce, creating new opportunities for more people throughout Maine.”
Maine’s community colleges have a competitive advantage by providing a comprehensive, affordable and accessible remote work program just as the economy emerges from the pandemic.
“The Maine Community College System has already assisted hundreds of businesses by expanding and strengthening their workforce through the training and upskilling of thousands of Maine residents,” said Danielle Vetter, senior program officer at Ascendium. “Strategically preparing for the future of work, this initiative continues that success as more learners from low-income backgrounds in rural areas gain the skills necessary for roles in high-demand and high-mobility fields, particularly those with remote working opportunities.”
With this grant, The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges has raised nearly $43 million since it was established in 2009.
Ascendium is a nonprofit organization that supports efforts that seek to create large-scale change in postsecondary education and workforce training so more learners from low-income backgrounds have the opportunity to achieve their academic and career goals. This grant is part of their focus area to support rural postsecondary education and workforce training.
Maine’s seven community colleges have the lowest tuition and fees in New England and serve more than 29,000 individuals a year through degree programs, customized training, and opportunities for lifelong learning.
Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org.