A unique partnership leveraging the workforce expertise of Mobilize Maine and its many business and community partners with a supportive grant from the Maine Quality Centers should lead to employment in Information Technology (IT) positions for 15 unemployed or underemployed area workers, many of whom are New Americans.
The effort was guided by the Portland and Lakes Region Workforce Action Team of Mobilize Maine, an asset based economic development program. The team, which is charged with growing meaningful employment opportunities through meeting employer needs, is advised by area employers and consists of representatives from Southern Maine Community College (SMCC), Goodwill Workforce Solutions, Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc., Portland and Windham-Raymond Adult Education, and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
To begin, through surveying area labor market information relating to the existing skills gap, the team found a critical need for entry level IT employees. By meeting with several local companies employing IT staff, this need was documented and the specific skills necessary for entry level positions were identified. Significantly, the skills required extended beyond the technical to include communications and customer service.
In collaboration with participating employers and Southern Maine Community College, the Workforce Team developed a skills-based 74 hour program of instruction, which will provide graduates with A+ certification, a recognized IT standard. Based on extensive preplanning, this program will be recognized with credit toward SMCC’s A.S. in Computer Science, which in turn transfers into the University of Southern Maine’s B.S. in Computer Science. As a result, this program provides the portal for continuing technical study in a high pay, high demand career field.
Student recruitment, which was coordinated by Goodwill Workforce Solutions and Portland Adult Education, resulted in a diversity of candidates referred through a network of community sources, including programs serving New Americans. An initial pool of 45 applicants was screened for IT training potential, resulting in a class of 15, which is the maximum capacity based on project funding. Over 60% of the students selected are New Americans, many of whom have prior IT training, but no documented U.S. credentials. For them as well as the other students, this training will provide a sought after IT credential that is valued by employers.
The IT Training Program began at SMCC on June 16 and will end on August 8th. It is intensive and fast-paced, requiring students to complete a considerable amount of study outside the classroom. As sustainable employment is the goal, Portland Adult Education will offer English Language Learner review sessions to those in need and SMCC staff will provide students with assistance in resume development, interview preparation, and job search strategies. Additionally, Portland Adult Education, provided students with bus passes for the first half of the program and received a donation from South Portland Metro to cover the remaining period.
To promote job placement, employers will be encouraged to visit during training hours to observe student progress and allow students to make some initial contacts. Toward the end of the training period, it is planned to conduct an IT Roundtable, a speed dating like experience, giving students the opportunity to present their qualifications briefly to several employers. Further assistance in obtaining employment will be provided through Goodwill Workforce Solutions and the CareerCenter. For evaluation purposes and to support potential future IT training initiatives, a follow up study to assess the graduates’ long term success will be completed.
Working in partnership, rather than in isolation, provided access to an extensive menu of workforce expertise and resources, including labor market information, funding, trainee recruitment, job search assistance, and employment opportunities. In summary, this collaboration of business, economic development agencies, government, and community agencies facilitated by Mobilize Maine and supported by the Maine Quality Centers provides a solid working model of how to meet the needs of both employers and those seeking work.