WATERVILLE — Michael Aldana was working in retail when he heard about an information technology services and consulting company that was opening a satellite location in Waterville and planned to hire 200 people in five years.

Aldana, who had graduated in 2012 from Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts, with a bachelor’s degree in computer animation, saw an opportunity to work in a field he loved and for which he was trained.

He logged on to the website of the company, Collaborative Consulting, liked what he saw and took the plunge. He applied, was hired, took a paid nine-week associate training program from February to May this year and now is an associate developer, working out of the company’s office in the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street.

“I absolutely love it,” Aldana, 25, said Monday.

Aldana is one of 30 people the company has hired since it announced in December it was opening in Waterville. Along with those hires, the company and Thomas College have forged a training partnership that will benefit both, as well as meet the needs of the area’s business, college and company officials said Monday.

The training Aldana completed in May was taught by Collaborative employees whose second training session this summer included some unusual students — a couple of Thomas College professors who will transfer what they have learned to their classrooms to help better prepare Thomas students for jobs once they graduate. They also will be able to teach students what they need to know in today’s business world.


The Thomas professors, Anne-Marie Thibodeau and Donald Cragen, are the first to take part in the new partnership between Thomas and Collaborative that grew out of research by the college about how to help the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts.

The professors will become trainers for future sessions and help advise Thomas on how to expand its professional development offerings to other area businesses.

John Williams, Collaborative’s senior vice president, said the goal is to have professional educators, as opposed to Collaborative employees, train workers.

“It’s very expensive for us to take people out of the field and have them come in as instructors,” Williams said Monday. “We’d certainly much rather have professional educators — Thomas College professors — learn our material, and hopefully they can take over.”


The collaboration with Thomas started after college officials investigated how the college could help Waterville with revitalization efforts that have been fueled in a large part the past year and a half by Colby College’s focus on downtown.


Collaborative Consulting, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, opened its satellite office, Collaborative Waterville, at Hathaway as part of an effort by state officials, Colby College, economic development organizations and the city, and plans to hire around 200 people within five years. Collaborative plans to move to the upper two floors of the Hains building on Main Street, which Colby bought and is redeveloping, possibly as early as next year. The company will need more space as it grows, according to Williams.

Meanwhile, Thomas College, through focus groups, identified professional development as one of the things the college could do to help local and family businesses. Thomas officials also traveled to colleges around the country to find out which ones had small business development centers on campuses, according to Mikaela Ziobro, Thomas’ director of strategic initiatives.

Thomas wanted to help Collaborative Consulting succeed in Waterville and came up with the scenario in which Collaborative employees would train Thomas professors to train workers, Ziobro said.

“It does free their people up to sell more and do more and sell the product they create and allows our faculty to know what these technology companies want,” Ziobro said. “They’re hiring kids right out of college, and we really want our kids qualified to do those types of things. It’s a win-win for both of us.”

Cragen took three days of training and Thibodeau three and a half weeks. Thibodeau, an assistant professor of mathematics, has nearly completed her training at Collaborative.

“The training’s been really rigorous, and it’s really geared toward trying to get someone hired totally prepared to hit the ground running,” she said.


Thibodeau holds a doctorate in engineering and a master’s in computer information systems. She formerly worked at Pratt & Whitney designing military and commercial jet engines, but it has been a while since she has worked in the field, she said.

Taking the training was enlightening for many reasons. She said she asked some fellow trainees, including one of her former students who works at Collaborative, what she could do to help future students in her classes. They told her that online and evening courses for computer science majors would be beneficial, so she is going to talk with officials to try to make that happen, she said.

Cragen, who teaches mainly marketing and strategic planning at Thomas and is chairman of the college’s Allen Ryan School of Business, said the training was interesting and included a broad spectrum of students who were engaged and asking important questions.

The part of the training he attended was about business processes and how one develops a plan to consult with business clients. As part of that, a worker would find out what a client says he needs, analyze and determine what the company needs and pass that on to a software developer to develop software, he said.

Cragen said education is in large part theory-based, and it is vital that colleges partner with businesses to bring that education forward. Having professional educators train workers is beneficial also because there are little things they can do to help new employees retain learning, he said.

Ziobro said he and Thibodeau understand the impact of the Thomas-Collaborative partnership on not only students, but also on Collaborative Consulting and the community.


“We want them to succeed,” she said. “We want 200 jobs in Waterville.”


The training program, which Williams said the company hopes to hold twice a year, is designed for either those who have worked in technology or those with some exposure or a small amount of experience of one year or less. Eight students trained in the first session and 13 in the second, he said.

“They don’t all make it through the training,” he said, adding that most people do succeed.

Collaborative builds its own training curriculum from scratch, he said.

He said most employees live within an hour’s drive of Waterville. The quality of the workforce is excellent, and employees are dedicated, according to Williams.


“It’s been a great experience, hiring the people in this market,” he said.

About 70 percent of employees were living in Maine when they were hired and about 30 percent relocated to Maine or were former residents who returned, according to Williams. They are of all ages, with the oldest about 60, he said.

“We’re hiring,” Williams said. “We continue to hire. We continue to look for experienced people.”

Collaborative now employs graduates of Colby, Thomas and Kennebec Valley Community colleges, as well as those from the University of Maine. The company plans to have four paid student interns a year work at the company as part of a special for-credit program.

Aldana, who moved to Hermon in 2015 from Rhode Island and commutes 45 minutes to his job in Waterville, said he is “ramping up” for his first project — building software for a company that will be user-friendly and efficient.

“The training program was definitely intense, but it was amazing,” he said.


He learned about working with data, web development, coding and other work, both through lecture and hands-on activities.

“The instructors are great,” Aldana said. “They really love what they do, they’re good at it and they love showing other people.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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