BANGOR, Maine — At its seven facilities across the state, Bridge Academy Maine is trying to bridge the skills gap that faces Maine's workforce.

On Wednesday, Bridge Academy invited Bangor area employers to its facility at the United Technologies Center in Bangor to hear about the programs it offers and how it is helping close the skills gap.

Brian Langley is the Executive Director of Bridge Academy Maine. The students take college-level courses in the morning, then focus on their career in the afternoon. The students can earn a college degree while still in high school.

“They’re putting both sets of those skills together so when they leave here, they’re the complete package," Langley added.

Maine has the oldest population in the nation and the median age of residents is nearing retirement. According to Ready Nation, those retired workers will be leaving 158,000 open jobs in the next five years.

The state now has to fill those positions with quality and qualified workers.

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“There are jobs waiting for them, and employers who want them and educational institutions and organizations that can prepare them for the jobs of today and jobs of the future," Deb Neuman, the President of the Bangor Region of Commerce said.

The biggest field of concern: the trade industry. 

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“That’s the foundation of our economy is to have people who can take care of that the rest of us depend on and businesses depend on," Neuman added.

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Bridge Academy doesn't just focus on automotive, electrical, or other trade work. Other offerings include business programs, culinary education, video and audio production, and even a medical assistant program.

Maine's health care system is also in desperate need of qualified workers. Heather Burrill is the Clinical Operations Trainer at Penobscot Community Health Center. She said the job shortages in the medical industry are, "scary".

But programs like Bridge Academy are perfect for her field.

“We learn with our hands-on stuff, so I think if they have the opportunity to get in here and learn then it’s like you said, it’s the future, it really is," Burrill added.

Emily Watson is a junior in the Medical Assistant program. She is receiving education years before others that want to pursue a career in her field.

Bridge Year Education Services (BYES) is a non-profit organization that operates the Bridge Academy. Its board is made up of education professionals from the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, the Department of Education, industry leaders and public school administrators. The Bridge Academy provides High School Juniors and Seniors a unique dual-enrollment experience.

“It’s just so helpful, these tools, I’m going to use for the rest of my life just helping people," Watson added.

According to Ready Nation, to reach Maine's educational attainment goal, 60 percent of all adults must hold a postsecondary credential of value by 2025 to fill the skills gap. Currently, that percentage is 46.

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