Contractors throughout Maine currently face a quandary—they have plenty of work on their job sites, but they can’t recruit enough skilled employees to fill their openings. At the same time, many unemployed Mainers want jobs and could benefit from the steady work that they’d receive in the construction trade, but don’t have the right skills to be attractive to those employers. To help address both these problems, the John T. Gorman Foundation is supporting a pilot workforce training initiative in Lewiston that connects residents who have historically faced barriers to employment and provides them with the basic aptitude they need to be competitive in the field of skilled trades.
The program, which launched on January 30th, braids together federal, state, and private funds and incorporates lessons learned from other effective workforce development efforts throughout the country. The stakeholders behind the initiative include the Foundation, the City of Lewiston, community based organizations, Lewiston Adult Education, the Lewiston Career Center and the local Workforce Development Board. To ensure a better chance of success for the initiative, these partners solicited the feedback and advice of prominent construction employers in the region when designing the program’s curriculum. “We knew that to be successful, this program had to have buy-in from and meet the needs of the firms that we hoped would someday hire the program participants,” says Sara Gagné-Holmes, Senior Program Associate at the John T. Gorman Foundation.
Indeed, those employers’ guidance has proven invaluable throughout the implementation process. The initiative also includes a dedicated employer liaison, which helps to make sure that the program continues to serve the needs of both the participants and the employers. As a result of this feedback, participants will graduate with the hard and soft skills that are required in the construction field. Those in the program are also participating in a part-time, paid work experience at the employer-partners’ sites.
When recruiting the participants for the program, the initiative also tapped into the expertise of community-based organizations to reach the kind of jobseekers who have often had the most difficult time finding work, such as New Mainers, parents, and veterans. The community-based organizations also provided important guidance in helping the pilot track and improve its approach to training workers new to the construction field. Another integral part of the program is a dedicated coach who helps the trainees navigate the kind of barriers that might derail their participation, like transportation or childcare issues. “The coach has been invaluable to the people in the program, supporting them at every step as they work towards becoming skilled tradespeople,” says Misty Parker, Economic Development Specialist at the City of Lewiston.
This initial cohort will finish their work at the end of April, and the Foundation has committed to supporting a second group of trainees. By pulling in non-traditional partners and raising awareness about available workforce training opportunities among those who have had trouble connecting with the job market, the partners behind the Lewiston initiative plan to create a local workforce that will help to improve the community where they live.