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June 25, 2018
Focus: Energy

Expanded energy training center signals growing demand for skilled technicians

Photo / Courtesy Maine Energy Marketers Association
Photo / Courtesy Maine Energy Marketers Association
Maine Energy Marketers Association students got some immediate training when they installed high-efficiency wall-hung boilers in MEMA's expanded training space.

Demand for HVAC technicians is on the rise. That's led to the state-of-art expansion of the Maine Energy Marketers Association's Technical Education Center, training students in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.

The center has doubled its student capacity to 800, from enrollment of 400 last year.

The industry has good-paying opportunities, but not enough people entering the trade, says MEMA President Jamie Py.

MEMA is a nonprofit trade association representing more than 300 heating oil, propane, biofuels and motor fuels providers, and convenience store owners, who sell more than one billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, and distributing more than 90% of all propane sold in Maine.

MEMA opened the training center 12 years ago. The expansion provides room to run more training simultaneously. Distributors donated high-tech equipment to ensure optimal training.

"So students are learning on high-tech equipment as well as the equipment you might see in an old farmhouse," says Matthew Morrison, director of engagement and education.

The center has a 95% placement rate. "The people who built the school are the people employing the students," says Morrison.

With a tuition of $10,000, the center prides itself on accelerated training, with 70% lab and 30% classroom time. For example, completion of the six-week Oilheat Technician Training course eliminates six months of apprenticeship time required by the state for licensing.

"The majority of students know whom they're going to work for before they graduate," says Morrison.

The original center is 2,400 square feet. The expansion adds 1,800 square feet of labs plus three classrooms. MEMA is working with veterans groups, high schools and career centers to bring in more students, says Morrison. An initiative is in the works with the University of Maine System to allow students to get credits for the center's courses, so they can move seamlessly into bachelor and associate programs.

The aim is to boost enrollment. "It would be good for Maine," says Morrison. "We're talking about jobs."

"And there's demand," says Py. "We need to replace people who will be retiring. There's a growth rate of 20% in the HVAC field over the next 20 years."

No numbers were available on job openings. But, says Morrison, "Last time we had a board meeting, we asked company heads, who could hire someone today? Every single hand went up."

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