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THREE YEARS LATER: MAINE STUDENTS LEARN PLUMBING TRADE THANKS TO CONSUMER PROTECTION SETTLEMENT FUNDS
June 7, 2018
AUGUSTA--Four Maine high schools that were selected by the Attorney General’s Office to start plumbing training programs with funds received from a consumer protection settlement, trained nearly 100 students this 2017-2018 academic year.
“It’s not often enough that we see such tangible and immediate results from an investment. In just three years, this funding has opened doors for hundreds of Maine young people to learn new skills and potentially take an important step toward a rewarding and sustaining career,” said Janet T. Mills, Attorney General. “It’s also helping to fill a much needed skills gap among our trades professionals. During the past couple of years of these programs, we’ve seen example after example of local plumbers stepping up and going above and beyond to mentor and train these young people. That’s a win-win for our students, our employers, and our communities.”
In 2015, Attorney General Janet Mills settled a case against Bath Fitter of Portland for engaging in unlicensed plumbing activities, using non-conforming construction contracts, installing plumbing before plumbing permits were issued, misrepresenting employees’ license status, and engaging in plumbing installations that may violate the Maine State Internal Plumbing Code. The settlement, reached by consent judgment, included a monetary penalty.
The Attorney General’s Office determined that it would use the $500,000 in settlement funds to support four plumber training programs aimed at filling the plumber shortage in Maine. Mills selected Foster CTE at Mount Blue High School in Farmington, Lewiston Regional Technical Center, Oxford Hills Technical School, and Biddeford Regional Center of Technology. Each program received approximately $120,000 for two years to start the programs.
The Director of the program at the Oxford Hills Technical School noted in their report: “From my perspective, this investment is resulting in more young people interested in the plumbing field and will ultimately result in more licensed plumbers. I’ve seen a student who was potentially at-risk of not graduating and through this program, he found his passion and ended up graduating.” The Director also noted in his report that after completing the program the graduate was employed with a local plumber.
According to annual reports submitted to Attorney General Janet Mills, in addition to classroom training, students worked with local plumbers on projects in their community. Students from the Farmington area installed plumbing for the office of the Western Maine Community Action (WMCA). Students attending Biddeford Regional Center of Technology partnered with local plumbers, Local 716, and the Rotary Club. Additionally, students from Biddeford and Lewiston each participated in and won student plumbing competitions that included students from the community college system. This past spring, Lewiston Regional Technical Center co-hosted a Totally Trades event at Central Maine Community College, designed specifically to introduce 8th and 9th grade young women into the trades.
In Farmington, the Director of the Foster CTE Center commented in their report: “Local businesses are beginning to recognize the plumbing program as a resource to help them meet the increasing skills and training gap as they look for new employees. We have visited and coordinated with Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) to develop articulation agreements that enable students to receive college credits by completing the plumbing program at Foster CTE Center.”
Many of the participating plumbing students have continued their studies either through paid internships or going on to plumbing programs at post-secondary institutions.
Attorney General Mills added, “The best news of all is that because of the initial seed money and success of this pilot program, students, parents, teachers, school administrators, employers and community groups have experienced the benefit and seen the results of having an early plumber education program in their community. And now, they’re willing to find the resources to sustain the training into the future. I’m proud that our office was able to ignite that interest and support.”
All of the four schools have secured either private or public funding to continue and in some instances expand their plumbing programs. In the Farmington area, local business owner, Richard Bjorn has offered to donate $235,000 each year for two years to that the program can continue and increase offerings such as Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) training.
In Maine--and nationally--there’s a skilled trades talent shortage, in part due to the high number of people retiring from the field. In Maine, the average age of plumbing and heating contractors is over 55. In 2016-2017, the global staffing firm Manpower reported that skilled trade vacancies are the hardest jobs to fill in the country.
“These trades make great careers for men and women,” said Attorney General Mills. “I was heartened that the top student last year at the Farmington site was a young woman. Young women can and do succeed in these programs and I hope more are inspired to seek out the skilled trades.”