AUBURN — After enrolling at Central Maine Community College, Stephen Sylvester opted into a pilot program unique in the Maine community college system that split time between school and a construction site.

The past two years, he’s sat in the classroom, then worked on finish carpentry. More classroom, then he helped build a garage.

Referring to his time at Foster Career and Technical Education Center in Farmington, the 20-year-old Livermore resident said, “I learned quite a bit at Foster Tech, but this just took it to a new level.”

In May, when he and the four others in the pilot graduate, he has a job waiting with Scott E. Nason Builders in New Sharon.

“From my feedback from all the employers, they’ll all be offered jobs with who they’re working for,” Don Varney, CMCC’s chairman of building construction, said. “One even said, ‘Send me 10 more just like him.’ I’m like, I wish I could.”

Known as the “Jobsite Track” within the Construction Technology Program, the two-year associate’s degree will appear in course catalogs for the first time this fall. Varney is hoping for a class of 10 or so.

CMCC spokeswoman Heather Seymour said it’s modeled after a program offered since the 1990s to automotive students through a collaboration with Ford Motor Co. and Ford dealers.

Students spend the first semester in the classroom and then rotate every eight weeks between the classroom and job site. They’re responsible for connecting with an employer and negotiating their own pay, and employers agree not to hire the students out from under the college, before graduation.

Varney has a list of employers who have asked to be put on students’ radars as they look for work through the program.

“They’re all needing help so badly right now,” he said. “It’s not that most residential (building) employers don’t want to take the time to teach you all the finer points, they simply, economically, can’t afford to slow down and take that time. They can’t afford to have you cut something six times to get it right; the material cost alone … All those things are things that happen here. We slow everything down and we can spend the time with them.”

Presenting an employer with an associate’s degree and pointing to the mix of classroom time and skills picked up on the job will go a long way in showing their value, Varney said.

“They’ll get more responsibility, more pay if they can get their two-year degree,” he added.

Shane Kimball, 30, from Buxton, said he’d found himself moving between a few jobs and decided “I wanted to find an actual career for myself.” That led him to CMMC and the pilot.

He’s been working at Fortin Construction in Auburn.

“The biggest thing about going from this, the classroom into there, is having more knowledge, more capabilities,” Kimball said. “Just for the few months I was working with them, they were already talking about, ‘Shane, we can probably get you into a foreman position in a couple years,’ as opposed to a decade.”

Matthew Martin, 38, from Saco, said he enrolled in college wanting to put the G.I. Bill to use. Through Wright-Ryan Construction of Portland, he’s worked on a golf course clubhouse and the new welcome center for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

“I thought I liked building stuff, and it turns out that I do,” he said.

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Five members of Central Maine Community College’s new Jobsite Track degree option in Building Construction Technology rotated classroom time with weeks working for construction companies to kick-start their building careers. From left are Matthew Martin of Saco, Shane Kimball of Buxton, Stephen Sylvester of Livermore, Andrew Loisel of Lewiston and Nicholas Hall of Peru. (Kathryn Skelton/Sun Journal)

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