SCARBOROUGH — Maine, not unlike most states, is facing one of the highest shortages of skilled trades workers. In 2017, a global staffing firm reported that skilled-trade vacancies are the hardest jobs to fill and remain the No. 1 job vacancy from 2010 to present. In response, four well-known Maine-based business leaders created the “Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation” as an incentive to graduating high school students to pursue trade school. In 2017, the foundation awarded $21,000 in scholarships to 26 students ranging from $500 to $2,500.
Interested students were asked to submit an essay on what the scholarship would mean to them and how it could affect their trajectory. Several applicants wrote that when they found a trade, they noticed a natural improvement with their grades. More than 150 students applied and 26 were accepted.
“My ultimate goal is to continue living in this great state, to be gainfully employed in a career I love and to give back to my community,” says Ryan Douglas of Capital Area Technical Center.
Shawn Moody of Moody’s Collision Center started the foundation in 2014 when their small business started to experience a lack of available tradespeople.
“We have always championed for these industries and tried to break stigmas associated with working in the trades or manufacturing,” Moody says. “Giving young people a head start can point them in the right direction toward earning a great salary with little or no student debt.”
In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median wage for electricians as $54,110 and for carpenters, $45,170. The foundation attributes the unprecedented skilled-labor shortage to a combination of unemployment levels, an aging workforce population coupled with a lack of interest from high school students in blue-collar jobs.
“Finding reliable, skilled workers is a challenge,” says Roccy Risbara, co-owner of Scarborough based Risbara Bros. Construction. “My parents started our business fifty years ago and we’ve seen a decline in the availability of talented tradesmen. So it feels good to support our students and preserve our trade.”
Gilman Electrical Supply and Rowe Ford have also stepped up to contribute to the foundation in recent years. Since the Maine Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation was founded in 2014, it has raised $125,000 and dispersed scholarships to 85 Maine students.