As Labor Shortage Worsens, Businesses Focus on Scholarship Foundation to Support Maine Trade Students

 ‘Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation’ awards $50,000 to 44 Maine students in 2019 June 10, 2019 Scarborough, Maine – Maine, not unlike most states, is facing one of the highest shortages of skilled trades workers. For the first time since 2001, the number of job openings is higher than the number of job seekers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. For the last 13 months, the gap has widened between the number of open jobs and the number of available workers. In response, Maine business leaders have funded the ‘Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation’ to incentivize graduating high school students to pursue trade school. 

Moody’s Co-Worker Owned created the foundation in 2014. In 2017, it became a nonprofit and Rowe Ford, Risbara Bros. Construction and Gilman Electrical joined as partners. Since then it has raised over $144,000 – all granted to Maine students as trade school scholarships. “We got involved knowing that we need to do our part to build Maine’s blue-collar workforce and it’s exciting to see how many students are applying,” says Roccy Risbara, President of Risbara Bros. Construction.

This year, 120 students applied and 44 were awarded a grant, ranging between $500 and $2,500. To earn a scholarship, students are asked to submit an essay on what the scholarship would mean to them and how they’d use it. “I never imagined I’d be a business owner,” says 2018 recipient Joshua Briggs, who used his scholarship as a principal payment to purchase Mainely Mowing in Scarborough. “I applied for this grant because I knew a four-year college wasn’t for me,” says Kennebunk High School student Jalen Jellison. Jellison will attend a 16-week electrical program this fall with the scholarship he earned. “The classes are in the evening so I can remain employed as an electrician’s helper while I earn my licenses,” Jellison says.

In 2018, the median salary for electricians was $55,190; $46,590 for carpenters; and for $44,810 for masons according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The foundation says the average salary for these positions in Maine is often significantly higher.

In Houlton, Harbison Plumbing and Heating, a newer foundation partner, is facilitating the creation of a pilot program at Region Two Vocational School. The program will train students to become mechanical systems technicians. David Harbison says “we are all in need of a stronger workforce so that employers can run their businesses successfully. Improvements won’t happen overnight, but we have to start somewhere.”

The foundation attributes the labor shortage to a combination of Maine’s aging workforce coupled with a lack of interest from high school students in blue-collar jobs.

The foundation has two $1,000 scholarships remaining for 2019 for those interested in the HVAC-R industry. Recipients can attend the MTEC program offered by the Maine Energy Marketers Association in Brunswick. Interested applicants can visit www.mainebluecollar.com. Since 2014, The Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation has dispersed scholarships to more than 120 Maine students.

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