State program to recruit young construction workers already expanding

2 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – Maine needs more construction workers, and a new program seeking to fill job vacancies has already succeeded in reeling in young tradespeople.

Construction companies added 5,310 new jobs to the state from 2017 to 2022, making up 41.8 percent of Maine’s net job growth during that period. Jobs are expected to continue growing at a rate of 12 percent in Maine, compared to 8 percent nationally, according to Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

But with a continually aging workforce, 80 percent of the state’s construction companies have vacancies and would be able to take on more projects with more workers, said Kelly Flagg, executive director of Associated General Contractors of Maine.

“There is more work than there are people to complete the work,” Flagg said. “We want to engage with more schools and contractors and put together more career pathways for students.”

Last summer, Associated General Contractors of Maine launched the Maine Construction Academy, a 4-week career immersion program for people aged 16 to 20 to learn about construction trades. The program is currently funded as part of a $1.47 million that the Maine Department of Labor received from the Maine Recovery & Jobs Plan.

The pilot program started with 50 students total from Biddeford Regional Center of Technology, Bath Regional Career & Tech School, Brewer High School and Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. The program had a 99-percent completion rate, with 75 percent of high school juniors and seniors saying they were interested in pursuing construction jobs, a community college program or apprenticeships after high school.

Many of the program’s older students went to work not long after finishing, said Thomas Sutherland, workforce and apprenticeship coordinator with Associated General Contractors of Maine.

CARIBOU, Maine — March 27, 2024 — Caribou Technology Center residential construction students Isaiah Anderson (on ladder) and Jeremiah Friedel consult with instructor Jonathan Daggett while building a garden shed. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

“Two students in Brewer last year are now building bridges in Milo and Medford,” Sutherland said.

Maine Construction Academy is expanding this year to include 12 schools throughout Maine, including in Aroostook, Penobscot, Cumberland, Oxford, Sagadahoc and Somerset counties. Program schedules vary at each location but will start in May and run until August. Each school’s program has 16 total slots available.

Students start by earning their CPR and 10-hour OSHA certifications. Local contractors then guide students through hands-on experiences in the classroom and job sites to teach them about career opportunities, including those in welding, crane operation, electrical construction, highway labor, carpentry, heavy equipment mechanics and building construction. 

On the program’s last day, all students participate in interviews with three different local contractors. Depending on their age and experience, some might get hired for seasonal or full-time work, Sutherland said. 

This week, Sutherland met with Aroostook students and contractors interested in taking part in the Construction Academy.

Two schools in Aroostook – Region Two of Applied Technology in Houlton and Caribou Technology Center – will host Construction Academy classes this summer. Houlton’s program will run from June 24 to July 26, with Caribou’s going from June 20 to July 25. Applications for all Academy programs are due April 26.

At Caribou Technology Center, tenth grader Jeremiah Friedel is already a student in a residential construction program and said taking the Academy would help him develop more skills for a future job. He was one of 24 students who filled a classroom at Caribou Tech to hear Sutherland discuss the Academy.

“I’m already good at the hard skills like cutting and drilling but I’d like to also explore how to operate crane machinery,” Friedel said.

Jake Patterson, an eleventh grade student in Caribou’s residential construction program, already works for two local contractors and said the Academy could expand his knowledge of the construction fields.

CARIBOU, Maine — March 27, 2024 — Emma York, a Caribou Technology Center student, sands down wood in the center’s residential construction lab. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

“Larger construction projects like bridge repair and welding are things I haven’t got to experience on a day-to-day basis,” Patterson said.

The Construction Academy is not just for high school students, noted Tracy Boaz, Caribou Technology Center’s student services coordinator. The Caribou center has already gotten interest from students at Loring Job Corps in Limestone and Caribou’s Adult Education program.

“We expect to fill the program,” Boaz said. “It’s a good chance for people to experience different trades and see if that’s something they want to do.”