AUBURN — As he was shown Monday how Central Maine Community College students use technology to learn law enforcement, auto mechanics and precision machine tools, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said he liked what he saw.

He was impressed with how students are learning and the college’s 95 percent job placement.

Michaud was at CMCC to talk about a grant that will further create jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor announced Monday it’s awarding Maine’s community colleges $13 million to create a host of information technology degrees and certificates. CMCC will get $4.5 million of that over the next four years.

“We’re going to add 36 degree and certificate programs around the state in computer technology. That’s a lot,” CMCC President Scott Knapp said. “We are going to be adding a lot of certifications in computer technology.”

There is a need for workers in that field. In 2012, there were 3,851 openings at Maine companies for IT workers, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Many Maine companies report they’re unable to fill positions with local workers and turn to out-of-state help, CMCC spokesman Roger Philippon said. 

The federal grant will eventually allow adding 2,100 new students to the Maine Community College System, starting with 100-plus students at the Auburn campus next summer.

Adding that many IT students “is a quantum leap,” Knapp said. For instance, at the Auburn campus there are now 180 IT students. “We will be able to double and triple that,” Knapp said. The community colleges came late to computer technology because money to build programs hasn’t been available, Knapp said. With the grant, “we are going to basically transform computer technology in Maine.”

In addition to new degree programs, IT computer certificates will be used by  workers now in the field to improve skills. Often they have had to go out of state to get some certificates, Knapp said. “We want to change that.”

Jobs created by IT programs include computer repair technicians, software resource personnel, network administrator, computer trainers and network sales personnel.

The Auburn college relies heavily on federal money, and federal budgets are approved by Congress, Knapp pointed out. He said he was happy to show Michaud how the college is and will spend federal money.

“This $13 million is just going to be phenomenal,” Michaud said. “When businesses try to find a place to locate, they need a workforce. If workers are not trained to the way they need to be, they need to retool them.”

Community colleges are a perfect example of how workers are being retooled, a trend the grant will accelerate, Michaud said. “We’ve got to give them the resources they need.”

CMCC is getting more than the other campuses because it will be the lead site to manage the budget, help build and share new programs and certificates for students.

Instructors will also undergo training, Knapp said.

And the grant will allow CMCC to create an assessment center.

“You’re going to come in, demonstrate that skill and be able to get credit or a certificate for the knowledge you have. It’s just going to be incredible,” Knapp said. Eventually the new assessment center will be used for all kinds of testing at CMCC.

The first year of the grant will be for planning, which is starting this year. The second two years are implementing new programs and certificates. The fourth year will be evaluating.

MCCS President John Fitzsimmons said in a news release that winning the labor grant is a “powerful endorsement of the colleges” and will provide Maine industries access to skills they need to prosper.

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