Monday, April 14, 2008

College and job-skills for Franklin County

In Franklin County, Maine, a group of local leaders has brought community college classes and jobs skills training to their area, giving residents new opportunities to qualify for good jobs and higher expectations for their futures. It is also providing employers—and prospective employers—with a new supply of well-educated workers.

The Franklin County Community College Network is one aspect of a model of collaboration that seems to work well for this remote rural county, located in western Maine.

The 21st century hasn't been kind to places like Franklin County, as the area has dealt with downturns in longtime industries employing generations in the production of shoes, paper, lumber, toothpicks, croquet sets, and other wood products. The county has one of Maine’s highest unemployment rates and lowest median household income levels. Tourists come to Franklin County to ski and visit expensive vacation homes, but rarely catch more than a glimpse of the telltale signs of poverty — worn mobile homes, boarded up factories, struggling shops.

The Franklin County Community College Network (or "The Network" for short) provides an important catalyst, promoting educational opportunities and eliminating obstacles and barriers that in the past may have prevented many in the area from accessing, or even considering college as an option.

I've been part of this network for about a year and I'm really excited about the possibilities this could mean to Franklin County.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has taken notice of these efforts, recognizing that this network is so much more than just college classes, as the area now is bringing industry-based training courses, like the one partnering with the Cianbro Corporation, a Maine company, needing trained welders to build boats. A 160-hour welding course was created that will lead to full-time jobs at Cianbro for successful graduates. Even better, the company is paying residents to take the course.

"We said ‘We have people who are unemployed. We’ll work with you to help train them,’” recalls Ray Therrien, an adult education director in southern Franklin County.

To read the rest of this excellent article that happens to get rural culture right, for a change, visit the website and click on the View PDF link.

To read a blog post from Maine's "PR Maven" about some marketing work that yours truly is involved in with this Franklin County group, click here.

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