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February 12, 2019

Manufacturers Association of Maine launches strategy to grow workforce

Courtesy / Manufacturers Association of Maine
Courtesy / Manufacturers Association of Maine
Lisa Martin is executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine.The organization, which represents 300 manufacturers in Maine, has launched two new programs to help its members find the skilled labor they need.

Manufacturers Association of Maine, in Portland, has launched two programs to help manufacturers fill jobs.

According to its news release, the association represents 300 manufacturers and 70% of members can't fill jobs that require skilled labor. And the need is growing for skilled labor in Maine's manufacturing industry, the association's executive director, Lisa Martin, told Mainebiz.

"On any given day, there are 800 to 1,000 job openings statewide in manufacturing," Martin said. "I just met with a small textile manufacturer. She said she wanted three to four new people. She only has four people, so she needs to double her workforce."

Martin said she hears similar stories from every company.

Workforce shortages are resulting in investments in automation, she said.

"They're not making those investments because they don't want people working for them," Martin said. "They're doing it because they can't find people work to work for them."

Piping in the talent

As a result, the association has launched a program called Manufacturing Career Connection, which focuses on students, educators, veterans, immigrants and other populations.

Maine Career Connection focuses on two main areas: Building the pipeline and filling the jobs, according to the release.

"We realized that all the work we had done with students over the years only addresses half of the workforce challenges facing manufacturing companies," Martin said in the release. "Students were still a few years away from entering the workforce in many cases. We needed to also focus on filling some of the current open positions at companies."

Based on feedback from manufacturing industry members, the association has engaged organizations that work with transitioning military members, corrections, New Mainers and immigrants and the Fedcap program, she said. Also, the association has expanded jobs postings on its website and resume distribution services to association members.

School-to-work

The association is also partnering with SEMI High Tech U, a nationwide program that connects students and educators to science, engineering, technology, and math careers.

SEMI High Tech U is an intensive three-day program for high school students who want to learn more about STEM careers and the educational pathways needed to pursue them. The interactive workshop is led by industry volunteers who also provide students their school-to-work journeys.

"It's a very hands-on program," Martin told Mainebiz. "We have a lot of interested companies."

"We are trying to answer the question, 'How do we fill all these jobs opening up in high-tech?'" Bryson Gauff, SEMI High Tech U program manager, said in the release. "We really think our camp, with hands-on learning and having the industry connection, really lets the kids see what the next steps could look like,".

ON Semiconductor hosted a SEMI High Tech U in December 2018 at its South Portland fabrication facility. Of the 29 Maine students who attended, nine were from Baxter Academy.

"Our students were impressed with not only the technical content that they engaged with, but also the soft-skills training such as communication, leadership, and team-building," Heather D'Ippolito, Partnership and Outreach Coordinator at Baxter Academy, said in the release.

"It was absolutely amazing," Riley Donschikowski, Baxter Academy Class of 2022, said in the release. "I learned a lot about options after college, including different types of engineering, and also how to present myself professionally in the future. I learned how to make my plans after college more practical, useful, flexible, and efficient and I learned how to prepare for a job interview."

Two SEMI High Tech U workshops in Maine (in October 2013 and December 2018) have provided almost 70 students insight into future STEM-related careers. The association will expand the program to include learning experiences for educators as well.

Other initiatives

In 2013, the association launched a student and educator outreach program tied to a national workforce development strategy with the Manufacturing Institute in Washington D.C. This strategy focused on changing the perception of manufacturing and engaging students and educators. Since the program launched, the association has engaged over 9,775 students, educators and other influencers such as parents and state officials in touring manufacturing companies.

Martin said the association also recently received a Maine Technology Institute grant to study the feasibility of developing a "waste to wares" program. The association will look at manufacturer waste with the goal of finding ways to "upcycle" the waste, she said.

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