JAY — Many Wausau Paper Corp. workers took advantage of training offered and changed careers when the Wisconsin-based company closed the century-old mill that straddles Jay and Livermore Falls in 2009.
Former workers encourage the people who lost their jobs at Verso Paper Corp.’s mill in Bucksport in December to take advantage of all of the programs, resources and opportunities that should become available to them.
Some of the Otis workers used the skills they had as papermakers to stay in the profession at other mills. Others became school bus drivers, entered the medical field or trades, earned a college degree or chose another career path.
More than 200 workers lost their jobs in the two-stage closure between December 2008 and May 2009.
Patty Ladd, manager of Western Maine Community Action’s CareerCenters in Wilton and Rumford, said she believes many of the former mill workers are doing well.
“I have spoken to quite a few of the people and they have moved on in their lives and have a new career,” Ladd said. “Some of them kept the skills they were using and some moved to another career.”
It was too bad economy-wise that the mill had to close, she said, but she is thankful employees reached out to the center and community resources to help them. People from different agencies at the center helped them in various ways, including assistance in applying for unemployment, researching new careers, reaching out to community resources and financial assistance for training. Adult education in a couple school districts also helped the workers.
“They were a great, great group of people to work with,” Ladd said of the workers. “I cannot emphasize that enough. They were actually very supportive of each other during the process.”
Stephen Gould of Fayette and Randy Berry of Livermore are two of the workers that took advantage of training offered.
Gould, a former security guard at the mill for 20 years, is now a registered nurse. He continues to work on the side when time allows with police departments.
He took advantage of training assistance and earned an associate degree in nursing about three-and-a-half years ago.
He had been taking pulp and paper classes when word of the closing was announced. Those classes were far easier than the nursing classes, he said.
Gould said of his new career, “I love it. I have the best of everything.”
The mill’s closing was the best thing that happened to him and spurred him on to pursue other interests, he said.
He is on the intravenous therapy team at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan.
Gould hopes the former workers at the Bucksport mill take advantage of resources offered.
“It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are,” he said. There are job retraining opportunities and programs out there for them and they shouldn’t let anyone tell them otherwise, he said.
All the hard work he did to become a nurse was worth it, he said.
Berry earned a bachelor’s degree in geography at the University of Maine in Farmington through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
“Though the workload was difficult, I was treated very well by the faculty and students,” he said. “The professors seemed to appreciate having me in their classroom. I was able to transfer a few of my Thomas College credits and all of the credits I had earned at Central Maine Community College while working in the mill. UMF was a terrific experience for me, and I’ve made some friendships and connections that I hope to maintain.”
He received the Myron E. Starbird Award for Excellence in Geography and used it to enroll in the Geographic Information Systems Certificate Program at the University of Maine at Machias.
He graduated on a Saturday from UMF and started a GIS class at the Machias campus.
He finished his final course in December.
The trade assistance program helped him through UMF, and he worked on the geographical information systems certificate on his own, he said.
After UMF, he started working as a student services representative in Franklin and Lincoln counties for Central Maine Community College.
He is currently the assistant plans/training/operations officer at Androscoggin Unified Emergency Management Agency in Lewiston.
He has already been using his education to help update the Androscoggin County Chemical Emergency Response Plan, he said.
“I’ve made some great connections with some GIS experts in the area, and we are looking at ways to collaborate on projects that may be mutually beneficial,” Berry said. “This is a pretty close match to my plan for the Wilton CareerCenter to qualify for the (Trade Adjustment Assistance) back in 2009. Without a degree, my experience in local firefighting, emergency management and government wouldn’t get me into the computerized application process. Now my experience and my education is making a difference.”
He also encourages Bucksport workers to take advantage of retraining.
“If any of them have some college or have any interest in attending college, don’t wait,” Berry said. “Get the process started. Some may need some brush-up work with adult education, but some may be ready to go. As far as I know, our ‘Otis graduates’ have all done well.”