Greg Cushman, who teaches electricity at Lewiston Regional Technical Center, said his graduating seniors, and some of his juniors, have been hired in their fields. With not enough skilled workers, employers are calling the school seeking to hire students, said LRTC Director Rob Callahan. Damien Poulin/Lewiston Regional Technical Center

LEWISTON — When he graduates June 8, Edward Little High School graduate, Mason Aube has plans for the summer — and beyond.

Mason Aube, 18, who is finishing a two-year electricity program at Lewiston Regional Technical Center, has been hired as an electrician apprentice by IBEW. Students learning career programs are in hot demand, said LRTC Director Rob Callahan. Aube can expect to earn $40 an hour in six years, said electricity instructor Greg Cushman. Damien Poulin/Lewiston Regional Technical Center

Now finishing his second year in the electrical program at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, Aube, 18, has been hired for the apprenticeship program with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

“It’s a five-year program. I got accepted a couple of weeks ago,” Aube said. “I’m excited to start.”

He’ll be doing commercial electrical work. His starting pay will be about $17 an hour, plus health benefits. In addition to a full-time job, IBEW will provide Aube with training two nights a week, said his teacher, Greg Cushman, who oversees LRTC’s electrician program.

When he has enough experience, Aube plans to become a full-fledged electrician in four years. Six years from now he’ll likely become a master electrician, said Cushman. Once a master electrician, Aube said, he’ll probably make $30 an hour.

Or maybe $40, Cushman said. That would be about $80,000 a year, and with no college debt.

The hiring story is similar with other career and technical high school students at the Lewiston program; all who want to have jobs in their fields. Employers are clamoring for more skilled workers, said LRTC Director Rob Callahan.

“It’s fast and furious,” Callahan said. “Businesses, the amount of work they have on their books require they bring in skilled labor. All the students we have in trades, from medical to culinary and hospitality, are in demand. We’re trying to create a bridge for our students so they have a good sense of what’s expected and to be competitive in the workplace.”

Noah Ackley, 18, of Poland, who is finishing a two-year plumbing program at Lewiston Regional Technical Center, will work for ABM Mechanical in Westbrook. Students learning career trades are in hot demand, said LRTC Director Rob Callahan. Damien Poulin/Lewiston Regional Technical Center

Compared to five years ago, demand from employers has doubled,” Callahan said. “Not only are employers asking how many do you currently have in class, but how many could you turn out in a few years?” As a result, programs at the school are full, with students on waiting lists to get in.

The proposed new Edward Little High School, which Auburn voters will decide on June 11, has a proposed LRTC wing with 10 programs, enlarging career and technical programs from the current 750 students to about 1,200 students, Callahan said. More programs to teach more trades is needed, he said.

Noah Ackley, 18, of Poland Regional High School, just completed his second year of plumbing at LRTC. “This summer I’m going to work for ABM Mechanical in Westbrook doing commercial plumbing,” he said. Ackley expects his starting pay to be about $17 an hour. After gaining enough experience and becoming a master plumber, he estimates his hourly pay should be $30-something an hour.

In Cushman’s senior class, Gaetan Jordan, 18, who is graduating June 9 from Leavitt Area High School, works for Integrated Electrical Services in Lewiston.

Tanner Cortes, 18, who just graduated from Lewiston High School, will work for Regional Electric in Auburn this summer. He plans to attend Northern Maine Community College in the fall. Six years from now he sees himself still working for Regional, but as a master electrician.

“The goal we want for all these kids is to have their master’s,” said Cushman. To become a master electrician 12,000 hours, or six years of experience, is needed. To become a full-fledged electrician “you need experience, four years or 8,000 hours.” And, Cushman said, “you have to have a 45-hour course in Current National Electric Code, and have to pass the exam. It’s a four-tier process.”

Many trades face a shortage of workers, with Baby Boomers retiring and few behind them to take their places. Nationally the average age of an electrician is 58, a statistic expected to worsen in the coming years. “Five years from now these kids should be looking at earning $30 an hour,” Cushman said. “I tell these kids all the time they’re sitting in a great place. We need these young guns coming into our trade.”

“I like hearing that,” Cortes said.

Andrew Klaft, 21, of Richmond, completed the LRTC program in 2016 when he graduated from Oak Hill High School. Today he’s a commercial electrician working for Regional Electric. “I love it,” he said. “I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Klaft spoke for many of the LRTC students when he talked about the appeal of the trades. They like working with their hands, find the work satisfying. The idea of being tied to a computer or desk doesn’t appeal.

There needs to be more emphasis and opportunity for students to learn needed skills and expose them to trade careers, he said. Too many high-schoolers “are striving for that four-year college degree. There’s too much of that in my opinion.”

From where he sits, Klaft said high schools should take out community service requirements and make career and technical classes mandatory. “Give them a skill.”

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