By AMY CALDER

WATERVILLE — People looking for jobs should find plenty of possibilities Friday at a job fair to be held at T & B Celebration Center at 6 Jefferson St.

About 35 businesses that are hiring will be represented at the fair, to be held from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and hosted by the Central Maine Growth Council in partnership with the Maine Department of Labor and Waterville Public Library. The Growth Council is a public-private economic development organization that serves Waterville, Winslow and Fairfield.

Sponsored by CGI, a technology company, Central Western Maine Workforce Development Board and TD Bank, the fair was created as part of ongoing efforts by the Growth Council to promote development of the Waterville area workforce.

“This is really a job fair that is available for not just entry-level jobs, but also for folks looking for career changes, management jobs, people looking for a challenge,” said Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist for the Growth Council. “Everyone that’s going to be there is hiring. I think we’re at 35 businesses and we’re still getting calls. It’s really been wonderful. It definitely shows the need. We’re expecting a lot of folks to come through the door.”

Donegan said the idea that there are no jobs in Maine is far from true.

The job fair comes as the most recently recorded unemployment rate Kennebec County was at 3.4 percent, slightly above the state rate of 3 percent.

In Kennebec County, annual unemployment rates have typically mirrored those of the rest of the state, sometimes trending a little higher in the 1990s. In 2016, the statewide unemployment rate was 3.9 percent, while Kennebec County clocked in at 3.6 percent. In 2009, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, and Kennebec County’s was 7.6 percent.

The population in Kennebec County reached its peak in 2010, when there were more than 122,000 people living in the county. After an annual decline in population over the next five years, the population in 2016 was just under 120,600 people, according to data from the Maine Department of Labor.

In Kennebec County, the largest sector of employment is education and health services, with about 12,800 employees. MaineGeneral Health, for instance, employs about 4,300 people systemwide across its Augusta and Waterville area facilities, making it the largest private employer in the county.

Those sectors are followed by public administration, with over 8,500 employees. Just below that are trade, transportation and utilities at more than 8,200.

“There are a boatload of jobs in Maine and a lot of good-paying jobs,” Donegan said.

Colby, Thomas, Unity and Kennebec Valley Community colleges will be at the Waterville fair, as will MaineGeneral and Inland Hospital, according to Donegan. CGI, Marden’s Surplus & Salvage, Zimba Co., Hammond Lumber, New Dimensions Federal Credit Union, Central Maine Motors Auto Group, Day’s Jewelers, Bangor Savings Bank, T-Mobile, Valley Distributors, TD Bank, Maine Department of Labor, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, Ware-Butler Inc., Woodlands Senior Living, Northeast Laboratory Services, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, James D. Julia antiques, Best Western Waterville Grand Hotel and Hampton Inn also are among businesses to be represented.

Donegan said many businesses need reliable employees with strong “soft skills,” which includes skills as basic as coming to work and returning after lunch to how to be professional and represent your employer well in the community. A soft skill for a certified nursing assistant, for instance, might be a good bedside manner, according to Donegan.

The health care field is looking for all sorts of employees, including CNAs, physicians, registered nurses and medical assistants, he said.

“There’s a huge need for medical assistants,” he said. “It is a unique position and there are a lot of openings and often there’s the ability to grow within the business.”

He said medical assistants do a variety of things, including interfacing closely with a practicing physician or registered nurse, as well as performing administrative and clerical duties.

When CGI opened an office in Waterville, it hired a mix of local residents, including Thomas College students, and people from out of state who either moved away from Waterville or Maine in general to pursue employment and then decided to move back, according to Donegan.

“Their intention is to hire local, but also attract workers from away — new Mainers and folks with a history or family in Maine or those who are kind of scanning Maine to come back home,” he said.

TRAINING ASSETS

John Butera, senior economic adviser to Gov. Paul LePage, said on Wednesday in Waterville that statewide unemployment is low at 3 percent.

According to statistics from Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, the unemployment rate for March in Maine was 3.6 percent. A year ago it was 4.5 percent — a change of 0.9 percentage point.

The unemployment rate for Kennebec County in March was 3.4 percent, while a year ago it was 4.1 percent, a change of 0.07 percentage point. In comparison, the Cumberland County unemployment rate in March was 2.5 percent, and a year ago it was 3.1 percent, a change of 0.6 percentage point. The Labor Department estimates Waterville’s unemployment rate last year was 4.3 percent.

Typically it is easier for a worker to find a job when unemployment is low, but it can also mean a large number of people remain out of the labor force.

The overall job growth in Maine projected from 2014 to 2024 indicates the state will add more than 5,000 net jobs to the workplace, according to the Maine Department of Labor. While some industries are expected to lose jobs — such as education, training and library occupations; office and administrative support; farming, fishing and forestry; and product — the health care industry is expected to add thousands of jobs in that same period.

Food preparation and serving industries are also expected to grow their workforce in that time, likewise in the personal care and service industry. Computer and mathematical operations are expected to grow by nearly 800 jobs.

The transportation industry is expected to shrink by more than 200 jobs in that time; construction and extraction jobs are expected to shrink by about two dozen. “With regards to jobs/employment, we see health, administrative, and waste services leading the way as ‘growth’ industries,” Donegan said.

Butera said the state is focusing on developing the workforce, making sure people are trained to acquire skills businesses need. He said there are people who are underemployed, as well as those who are not in the workforce, and a lot of jobs are available in Maine.

Educational institutions such as Mid-Maine Technical Center, which is part of Waterville Senior High School, have programs that teach medical, construction, plumbing and heating and other skills. It works with area businesses to enroll students in pre-apprenticeship programs where they can learn from being in the businesses and garner school credits, according to Donegan. Business officials also come to the classrooms to educate students about what they look for in employees.

“MMTC is really kind of looked at as one of the leaders in pre-apprenticeship work,” Donegan said. “We’ve had great success, and I hope to be doing more of those projects, kind of helping area businesses. The hope is that the students stay on, and they do potentially get paid and get a position and stay in the region.”

Donegan, a member of MMTC’s Steering Committee, said MMTC students are held to a high standard and the school has a good graduation rate.

The same goes for Thomas College, which also customizes educational programs to help train students for work at places such as CGI. CGI employs 30 people at Hathaway Creative Center and plans to move this summer into the upper floors of the former Hains building at 173 Main St. downtown. Colby College bought that building and is renovating it into offices on the upper floors and retail spaces on the first floor. CGI plans to develop about 200 jobs downtown in the next few years. Donegan said close to 70 percent of Thomas graduates stay in the state.

“Thomas College is really strategically important and nicely placed to have a huge impact on our workforce, as are other schools,” he said.

KVCC and University of Maine also teach skills geared toward the workforce, according to Donegan.

FINDING WORKERS

Colby College graduates working at Maine businesses in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics may apply for student debt relief as part of a statewide program offered by the Harold Alfond Foundation and administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.

Alfond Foundation Chairman Greg Powell announced the Alfond Leaders program in February at an event held in the Hains building where CGI will move this summer.

Powell said the Alfond Foundation would contribute $5.5 million toward starting the program, which would pay as much as 50 percent in college loan debt — up to $60,000 — for a qualifying STEM student who commits to working in Maine for at least five years. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The program, which hopes to choose about 150 Alfond Leaders over the next three years, is designed to help Maine employers attract and retain talented workers. The Alfond Foundation will pay college debt of those who commit to Maine-based companies.

Tanya Verzoni, development director for the Growth Council, said in a news release that many businesses seeking employees will be represented at the job fair, which is free and open to all job seekers.

“There are a lot of great career opportunities right here in central Maine and we look forward to helping businesses find great candidates,” Verzoni said.

Donegan said the Growth Council has worked in partnership with Waterville Public Library on job fairs in the past, but this will be the Growth Council’s first stand-alone fair and it plans to hold more.

Those wanting more information about the fair may go to centralmaine.org or call 680-7300, according to Donegan.

Staff writer Colin Ellis contributed reporting.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17