FAIRFIELD — The Central Maine Growth Council and several partners took a slightly new approach Thursday with an event aimed at connecting students and potential employees.

The Nov. 15 Central Maine Career Expo brought more than 250 students and over 30 employers to Kennebec Valley Community College’s Hinckley campus, according to an organizer.

Elaine Theriault-Currier, development coordinator with the Central Maine Growth Council, said it was the first time the regional economic development organization and its partners have combined a career fair for high school students with a job fair for college students and other job-seekers who might be more immediately employable.

Theriault-Currier said there was no problem attracting businesses to the expo, given current workforce trends, citing a “silver tsunami” in reference to Maine’s aging population. A news release about the event also referred to Maine’s low unemployment “causing a significant workforce shortage.”

Maine’s unemployment rate in September of 3.3 percent continued a streak of 34 consecutive months under 4 percent, the longest such stretch on record, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

“So many businesses are hiring, so it’s not that difficult,” she said about business engagement with the expo.


Some of those employers are having to get creative in the current labor market, offering new incentives for young people to pursue certain careers.

Expo participant Hammond Tractor, for instance, has started a tuition reimbursement sponsorship program aimed at attracting and training new technicians.

David Ponsant, Hammond Tractor’s recruiting and training coordinator, said the company, with three locations in Fairfield, Union and Auburn, needs six or seven new technicians and is expanding its outreach to young people after having trouble finding qualified employees in the existing labor market.

Hammond Tractor is now offering 35 percent to 50 percent tuition reimbursement for students pursuing technical education at several institutions, including three of Maine’s community colleges, provided the students meet certain academic requirements and work with the company for two to three years after graduation.

“We’re trying to go out to the young people,” Ponsant said. “We just came up with the program, developed it last summer.”

Ponsant said the company hopes to have two or three students rotating through the tuition reimbursement program at once in order to help continually reinforce its pool of qualified labor, and he was happy with the student engagement at Thursday’s expo.


“We’re getting some pretty good traction,” he said, estimating 20 to 30 students were interested.

Thursday’s event also drew employers from outside of central Maine, including representatives from aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s York County location.

Randy Bolduc, Pratt & Whitney’s Manufacturing and Technical Training Manager in North Berwick, said it’s a necessity in today’s labor market for companies to get out into the community and connect with potential employees.

“We have to. Unemployment’s so low that we don’t really have an option,” Bolduc said. “When everybody is hiring, you have to be competitive.”

Bolduc said the company is engaging with students as early as middle school in an attempt to get them interested in a potential career with the aircraft engine manufacturer.

“We want to plant that seed at a young age so that the younger generation starts looking at us,” he said.


Event organizer Theriault-Currier said the event drew students from several schools, including Waterville, Winslow and Messalonskee high schools; the Somerset Career and Technical Center; and Waldo County Technical Center. Partners included KVCC and Jobs for Maine Graduates, a nonprofit organization that works within Maine public schools from middle school through college with the ultimate goal of connecting students with successful careers.

“We connect our students to employers across the state to strengthen Maine’s economy,” said Jessica Rodrigue, a JMG College Success Specialist working at KVCC, in the event news release. “Currently, JMG is working with over 500 businesses statewide and serving over 9,000 students in over 130 programs.”

Judi-Ann Bouchard, who works with JMG at Winslow High School, said in the release that connections between high school students and potential employers “provide students with experiences that help them to gain a sense of direction and an understanding of how education is linked to their future goals and careers.”

Matt Junker — 861-9253


Twitter: @mattjunker

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