BANGOR, Maine — For a growing number of area companies, Eastern Maine Community College has become a resource for work force education that is helping keep Maine businesses competitive.
“One of the things we try to do is look at what the needs of industry are,” Michael Ballesteros, who heads EMCC’s Business and Industry Center, said Thursday during a meeting of the college’s Advisory Council.
EMCC’s Business and Industry Center gives area employers access to training and technology programs either offered at EMCC or tailor-made to meet a company’s specific needs.
“Some say that manufacturing is dying in our state,” Ballesteros said. “Well, in some sectors that may be true but there’s a couple of sectors that are really going strong and [through] our partnerships with them, we’ve learned some lessons and actually complemented what we offer to increase our offerings to others.”
The school, he said, has had an ongoing partnership with The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor since 1995.
Besides management and leadership training, EMCC just rolled out an associate program in liberal studies with a major in biology to help the lab meet its work force needs. Credits are transferable to the University of Maine.
The new degree program also is expected to be useful to employees — or prospective employees — of other area institutions, including hospitals, Ballesteros said.
EMCC also was instrumental in helping Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. develop a stable of trained welders after it announced plans to open a facility where large construction modules are made, he said.
Others that have partnered with EMCC include Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Maine Commercial Tire and the Bangor Daily News.
On Thursday, two more partners were put into the spotlight — Brewer Automotive Components, the sole supplier of Toyota steering and suspension components in North America, and The Hinckley Co. of Trenton, a maker of yachts and other high-end boats.
Matt Cole, production manager for BAC’s manufacturing plant in Brewer, said a partnership with the Bangor college has enabled employees to further their education, including work toward an associate of applied science. The process starts with placement testing to help determine each employee’s educational needs.
“The response from the employees was great — everyone wanted in,” Cole said of the venture, which he noted was prompted by increasing competition in the automotive industry.
Cole said the college courses are provided at no cost to workers.
“We pay 100 percent” with some help from the state, he said.
Though most BAC employees take classes on their own time, the company does allow those who need it time off during the workday.
For The Hinckley Co., the partnership with EMCC helped the company streamline one of its boat-making production lines earlier this year, according to Dan Hietpas, production manager.
The process, which he said would be introduced to other lines at its plant, has helped Hinckley save time, lower production costs, reduce waste and improve safety, largely through better organization.
The effort to improve efficiency began by creating the “perfect station,” or work area. Workers have eliminated clutter and organized supplies and equipment, which means they no longer have to hunt for what they need to get the job done or have to special order parts and supplies, only to have them sit on shelves until they are needed weeks or months later.
Streamlining the manufacturing process itself has reduced the number of work hours needed to build one model of boats from 25,000 hours to 23,000 hours.