Southern Aroostook Development Corporation begins mentors program
HOULTON, Maine — In an effort to increase viable candidates for professional jobs, the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation has started a new youth mentorship program, partnering areas businesses with students.
“The Southern Aroostook Development Corporation has a pulse on issues facing employers in our region,” said Josh McLaughlin, former president of Southern Aroostook Development Corporation and the Houlton Area Chamber of Commerce. “In 2016, there were increased, formal and informal discussions amongst businesses and the SADC Board addressing the fact that the quality of applicants was declining and so, too was necessary life skills. Job vacancies began to steadily grow. Business owners were perplexed and frustrated.”
McLaughlin, who is president of J. McLaughlin Construction in Houlton, said he became restless and determined to find a solution. He witnessed within his own business how the lack of quality applicants was affecting his own business growth, but more importantly, the retention, opportunity for growth and the ability to sustain local businesses in our community and region.
Discussion between McLaughlin and Levi Prosser, divisional manager of the Daigle Oil Company in Houlton lead to the admittance. “We in society have allowed the young people to change and lose important life skills and drive for employment and We need to be the change.”
McLaughlin decided to establish the “SADC Education Committee” with the mission of developing initiatives to seek students who may not be sports or music stars or those students who may not seek out employers at job fairs and work with those students to foster a professional business relationship.
“I believed there are students that possess an inner spark and capabilities their teachers or other educating mentors would see in them and give them a chance to participate in a program that fosters the life skills employers know are pertinent, and are lacking in today’s workforce,” he said.
According to McLaughlin, this program is an opportunity for those bright students to be exposed to careers they are interested in, to network with other students or employers, do a job shadow or participate in potential internships, or to take advantage of career offers upon graduation with a little bit of guidance from a mentor for future education/training and potential business financial assistance or scholarships.
“This opportunity could be a trifecta in the sense that it helps the students soar, sustains local businesses and has a regional economic impact,” McLaughlin said.
In order to achieve this goal, in June 2019, Southern Aroostook Development Corporation created a survey and sent it to many local businesses to identify what skills were missing. The top five results were: reliable/dependable/accountable employees; being punctual; being effective communicators with interpersonal skills; having critical thinking/common sense; and being a team player.
At the same time, committee members were engaged in discussions with educators from Houlton, Hodgdon and Southern Aroostook schools to see if their concept of a pilot project for local area students was feasible. The group also listened to their observations regarding the struggles students are facing.
By September 2019, the committee brainstormed on how to take a conceptual idea of creating a mentorship program into reality. This would involve a number of meetings discussing the role of the committee, legalities, curriculum, employers time and resources, timelines, forecasting four years of activities and student selection.
By November 2019, the committee retained 12 business mentors and educators selected 12 students for the first year (commencing in January 2019), for the pilot project. The committee founded the name, “Future Professionals of Aroostook” and the students will develop their own logo, which will be used for stationery, t-shirts and future marketing purposes.
Team member Rosa McNally, grant writer for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, identified the resources needed to develop, monitor and sustain this work and is seeking funding to support a coordinator for this project.
Members of the Education Team — Josh McLaughlin, Joe Fagnant and Melissa Page — met with the selected students to discuss the opportunity this program would offer them. The level of “buy in” and excitement from the students, matched that of the SADC Team.
Meetings were held with the mentors determining the projection of the 4-year curriculum and the scheduled topics of lifeskills for each section of the mentorship program and the project was launched in January 2020.
“The team continues to develop expectations, modifications, student, parent and employer evaluation tracking systems to track met goals and objectives, impact and modify the program as it develops,” McLaughlin said.