MAINE, USA — When COVID-19 struck, it wiped out thousands of jobs in Maine, but is also made some Maine workers busier than ever, particularly skilled laborers.
In fact, Maine leaders of blue-collar industries have seen an increase in job applicants and an interest in the trades from a younger generation.
Like Denny Marble, a senior at Mt. Abram High School. He has big plans for his future.
In the fall, Marble will go to Kennebec Valley Community College to become a lineman, to work in the electrical field, just like his grandfather did.
"I saw how hard of a worker he is and I like to work hard and work with my hands and I knew since I was a kid that I like to work outside," Marble said.
Rebecca Brunner, a senior at Gorham High School, is excited about what's around the corner.
"I'm going to SMCC for the Ford Asset Program. Each semester I'll have 8 weeks of classes and 8 weeks working at Ford in their shop from 9-5."
Brunner wants to be an auto mechanic.
"I brought a broken-down truck and I rebuilt the engine with somebody that I know," Brunner said.
Both Brunner and Marble are recipients of a Maine Blue Collar Foundation Scholarship.
The program was created in 2014 by Moody's Collision owner Shawn Moody, who started seeing a big decline in available tradespeople. He thought the scholarships would be a good incentive for students to pursue a career in the trades.
"We see in the trades there is not a lot of good, qualified, talented help and we don't see a lot of younger people getting in," said Roccy Risbara, President and Co-Owner of Risbara Construction, a foundation partner.
Risbara says there are still outdated stigmas about careers in the trades.
"The truth of the matter is there are very very good livings to be had."
And it may have taken pandemic to realize that.
Applications for Maine Blue Collar Scholarships this year were up more than 150 percent.
"A lot of people are home and out of work but there are a lot of people still working and have been working," Risbara said.
"With the pandemic, we have seen some relief," said Peter Michaud, General Manager of Maine Properties.
Michaud says normally they have vacancies that can take up to two months to fill.
"We're fortunate we have low turnover, we compensate folks well with good pay, 401k and health benefits," Michaud said.
Even during a pandemic.
That kind of job security has only reinforced Marble and Brunner's career choices.
"I like being able to learn something once and being able to apply it for the rest of my life. I'll have a job forever," said Brunner.
"It's nice knowing that something this big in the world can happen and I won't have to worry about finding another source of income or rely on someone else. Knowing that I'll always be needed because people need power, so it's nice knowing I'll always have a job and not have to stress about that," said Marble.
Marble is also excited about his scholarship which he says should pay for all of his tools.
"That's a relief to me. I was going to have to work all summer to pay for it and the fall, but now that I got that scholarship the stress is low now. So I'm pretty excited about that" Marble said with a smile.
Perhaps a positive from this pandemic is that Americans will be reminded just how essential blue-collar jobs are.
Companies in Maine realize the importance of the foundation and the future of skilled workers. Just this week the foundation received a $10,000 donation from Central Maine Power.
This year alone the Maine Blue Collar Scholarship program has given out $75,000 to 82 students.
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus
NEWS CENTER Maine YouTube Coronavirus Playlist