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Community college answers the call for more skilled trades workers in Maine

The task is two-fold: keep more college graduates living and working in Maine and solve a problem employers are facing statewide. One Maine community college is looking to answer both by rolling out two new trades programs.

AUBURN, Maine — "I had been looking into doing engineering for many years because that's what my father did," said Matthew Scott, a student at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. "Then I discovered I don't like the calculus and I'd much rather be building stuff and designing my own stuff."

Scott is pursuing a four-year degree in precision machining technology. At Central Maine Community College the trades programs are thriving.

"It's a challenging job but I enjoy doing it," said Santa Barbosa, another student who works full time and is looking to advance her career.

RELATED: College debt reaches record high, demand for trade workers also up

"Employers are desperate for workers," said Betsy Libby, the acting president and dean of academic affairs. "They're coming to us telling us they have spots they cannot fill. They need to have employees who are trained in the trade whether it be plumbing, HVAC, or precision machining or electronics or automotive."

Libby said school leaders have talked about incorporating degree programs for plumbing and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for years. 

Funding was a concern, until now.

The Maine Community College System awarded CMCC $750,000 to implement two new degree programs for HVAC and plumbing. It's part of a package of four new workforce development programs.

Students will earn credit for hands on experience and the odds of securing jobs before graduation are pretty good; jobs that can pay more than $60,000 a year. 

This, at a time when student loan debt has reached $1.5 trillion nationwide.

With specialty trade degree programs, students like Matthew Scott can pursue their passion without taking on a mountain of student loan debt. 

 "As of now I've paid off my first year of college and I'm looking to pay off my second," said Scott. "You can't beat the tuition here."

Students can apply now for the plumbing and HVAC programs.

The lab space is slated to be ready by August and classes will begin in the fall.