A massive explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in April 2020 left the paper mill unable to produce pulp, which it requires to make paper. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Workers who lost their jobs after the explosion at the paper mill in Jay last spring can enroll for free at two nearby community colleges to help them find new jobs.

Pixelle Specialty Solutions, the mill owner, and the Maine Community College System announced Friday that 177 displaced workers have until next July to access the free classes.

The chief workforce development officer for the community college system, Dan Belyea, said in a prepared statement that Pixelle’s $1 million education fund presents an amazing opportunity.

A major explosion April 15 at the mill destroyed a pulp digester but did not cause any injuries or deaths. The company recently announced it would not replace the equipment.

“It’s a powerful new model that will give these hard-working Mainers the ability to access retraining at no cost to them,” Belyea said.

Classes are offered to the workers at Central Maine Community College and Kennebec Valley Community College.

“We partnered with Maine’s community colleges because we want these workers to have easy access to a broad range of high-quality retraining options,” Eric Hanson, the mill manager in Jay, said in a written statement.

Central Maine Community College pictured on the college’s Instagram account.

“For some,” he said, “that will be short-term training for a very specific job. For others, it might be pursuing a two-year degree that launches them in an entirely new career direction.”

The community colleges said they are working with the Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response Team to provide ongoing assistance to the dislocated workers that include one-on-one planning to provide them with information and guidance.

“Our community benefits, the workers get the training they choose and our local businesses know the local pool of skilled workers is growing,” Hansin said.

Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said the retraining should help local businesses.

“Other companies within our region are struggling to find well-qualified employees,” LaFreniere said in a prepared statement.

“Offering free, local education and training is a game-changer for these workers and our community,” LaFreniere said. “It’s going to open up so many opportunities for them and for local business owners actively looking for skilled workers.”

Workers who choose to take classes at the community colleges can pursue an associate’s degree, certification in more than 20 specific areas of study or pursue short-term training for specific jobs.

“This is an incredible $1 million gift to the people affected and the entire region. We’re eager to welcome these students and get them the training they need for their next step,” David Daigler, president of the community college system, said in a prepared statement.

Pixelle has about 250 employees still working at the Jay mill.

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