AUBURN — It’s no secret that Maine needs skilled tradespeople desperately, and the pay is better than it’s ever been.

According to Classet, a company that connects industry and students to new job opportunities and paid apprenticeships in the skilled trades, a person could end up getting paid more than the average college graduate.

To acquire those skills there are essentially two paths — learning as you go in the field, slowly working your way up, or taking a two-year course in one of many fields at a community college at little or no cost. There are area companies that may pay for training or certifications on top of the already generous packages of benefits, paid time off and retirement plan contributions.

Elmet Technologies in Lewiston has a tuition reimbursement program for current employees and has about 10 who graduated from Central Maine Community College on staff.

Maine’s unemployment rate remains at just over 3% with a majority of economists saying they don’t expect the situation to change much in the next year or more. That’s because there are still more jobs open than there are applicants to fill them, which means those whose skills employers are looking for are in high demand and can command a higher wage or salary.

Central Maine Community College in Auburn, seen in 2019, offers students the opportunity to learn high-demand skills in the classroom as well directly with businesses in their chosen industry. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal 2019 file photo

Construction, hospitality, health care and precision machining are some of the segments in the local economy where skilled workers are in demand. For those looking to capitalize on the demand and change the course of their career in any of those fields or others, the answer could be at Central Maine Community College.


Curry Caputo, who chairs the Building Construction Technology Program, said enrollment in the program doubled this year. That’s despite the reality that the school competes against businesses desperate to fill jobs from the same pool of students, who he said, have dollar signs in their eyes. “They want to make a profession, they want to make money out there in the field — that’s one thing that’s driving them here.”

Another motivator for students is the state’s free tuition scholarship for high school graduates from the classes of 2020 through 2023.

Students can choose from two degrees in the program, an in-house track and a job-site track. Caputo said the in-house students spend their two years in the classroom shop working on projects and in the outdoor classroom where there are five full-sized foundations on which they build full-sized houses.

Curry Caputo, chairperson of the Building and Construction program at Central Maine Community College of Auburn, takes a break Tuesday in the school’s workshop. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Caputo said the job-site track teams students with an employer, either a large residential contractor or a commercial contractor. They work 40 hours a week, are on payroll and covered by insurance.

“The big difference is I tell them I can’t control what they teach you on the job,” he said. “They’re going to teach you what you need to know to be a successful part of their crew.”

At the end of four semesters, Caputo estimated 80% of students are getting out in the field and working for residential or commercial construction. Some go on to four-year schools, where he said one former student pursued a degree in civil engineering, while others seek out sales, design or even estimating jobs in the industry.


Others come to develop the skills so they can work with confidence on their own homes and projects, while still others use the program as part of a career change.

What are the prospects for getting a job after the course?

“Right now,” Caputo said, “given the current climate, their prospects are near 100%.”

Central Maine Community College student Jacob Dwelley of Lincoln is enrolled in the Precision Machine Technology Program at the Auburn campus. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Jacob Dwelley is a second-year student from Lincoln enrolled in the Precision Machine Technology Program. He said he likes working with his hands and wasn’t interested in a more traditional academic track.

A welding class in high school sparked his interest. At CMCC, he said he’s learned to make things out of metal. “The easiest way to describe it,” he said, “is taking a raw piece of material and cutting it down into something that can actually be used.”

What will he do upon graduation?


Go into the industry and find out what area interests him the most. He’s considering the aerospace field, because, he explains, they work with tighter tolerances, and he is considering more school after working for a few years.

Outside of school, Dwelley works at a machine shop in Bangor where the owner has a job for him if he wants it. Having choices is one of the benefits of learning a skill in high demand.

CMCC is working on a partnership with Lewiston Regional Technical Center to bring high school students to the community college campus to take precision machine technology courses. There’s also some overlap in the culinary programs.

Yes, the hospitality industry is severely understaffed, which is where CMCC’s Culinary Arts Program comes in. On a recent day, students resembled a quartet of violinists — carefully sliding knives across sharpening stones in unison. It is part of a knife skills lesson.

Austin Perreault, chef and instructor at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, talks to students Tuesday about what they will be doing for the day’s lesson. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“We are going to be (learning) what you need to go out and work in the industry,” said Austin Perreault, chairman of the program. “Given any recipe, any technique, you should be able to know how to do it walking into any kitchen.”

Perreault said that without any training or degree, anyone can go straight into the workforce and get the technical aspect of working in a kitchen, but they won’t understand why. That’s what formal schooling gives students, he said.


What students can expect from the culinary program is basic skills, chicken fabrication, methodologies of cooking, like the five mother sauces of traditional French cooking, and some a la carte cooking experience in a kitchen. Students must also do an “externship,” usually with a restaurant of their choosing anywhere in the state.

Central Maine Community College student Kaitlyn Baker, a second-year student from Skowhegan, prepares bones for a broth Tuesday at the Auburn campus. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Kaitlyn Baker is a second-year culinary student from Skowhegan. She has a very clear vision of what she wants from the program. She is part of a changing landscape in commercial kitchens and the hospitality industry in general, which Perreault agrees is opening up more and more to women in key positions.

Baker said she originally wanted to pursue criminal justice, but got a taste for culinary arts in a high school course and decided it was in her blood. “I’ve always loved baking,” she said. “Baking is my specialty. My mom always taught me growing up.”

She started a little baking business on the side and managed to bake more than 40 dozen macarons over the summer, with plans to do even more. “I’m going to Thomas (College) next year. I want to get a couple of business classes in and start my own bakery.”

Not all skilled trades require people to work with their hands. Computer aided design students, for example, work primarily with software to design plans for buildings and machinery.

“I’ve always really been fascinated with how houses look different from one another,” Peighton Theriault of Sabattus said. “I’m a really big interior design person — matching patterns and colors and everything, so I just thought it would be a good head start into the engineering world.”


Central Maine Community College student Peighton Theriault of Sabattus, sits Tuesday with the project she submitted for last year’s contest on building exhibit spaces at the Auburn college. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

She’s a second-year student in the Architectural and Engineering Technology Program at CMCC. Department Chairman Timothy Braun said they have a studio class that is essentially a problem-solving exercise. Students are given an assignment to design either a residence or a commercial building.

“So, the idea here is they are taking a problem, working through the problem and coming up with a solution at the end of the problem,” Braun said. “And each student has a different solution, each student has a different view.”

That doesn’t mean graduates will sit behind a computer all the time. There is land surveying, interior design and a host of job possibilities. Some students move on to four-year programs in engineering or other subjects. That’s what Theriault plans to do next year, even though her father owns a construction and landscaping business. She hopes to go to the University of Maine at Augusta and see where it takes her.

All the two-year degree programs result in an associate degree and require some basic liberal arts courses such as math and writing. Maine students will most certainly graduate with plenty of job or career options in front of them and starting pay at or above $20 an hour, plus benefits.

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