Opinion

Moody’s got an idea for Maine trade schools

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In 2010 I toured The Boat School in Eastport, Maine. Modest looking from the outside, inside, the wooden boats in varied building and repair stages were impressive. Even non-woodworkers would appreciate the blend of craftsmanship and practicality of this Maine continuing tradition of building work boats to use on the ocean.

But how long will this continuing tradition continue? A decade ago the marine engine repair teacher at The Boat School told me the average age of a marine mechanic in Maine was 56. I was surprised. With so much opportunity in Maine for good boat engine mechanics, why the shortage? The teacher said young people weren’t learning the trade. The age gap was as simple as that.

I shared that story with a friend while walking around the 2018 Maine Home & Boat Show in Rockland. Then I repeated the story to a major boat engine manufacturer representative working at the show. I asked if 56 years old was still the average age of Maine marine mechanics.

“That sounds about right,” the manufacturer’s rep said. His co-worker said the situation was actually worse. The two men said their company, and other boat engine manufacturers, spend thousands of dollars on 200 hours of training, just to raise one person up to the most basic level of marine mechanic.

“It’s not just marine engine mechanics,” one rep added. “It’s finding qualified tradespeople to build or repair all of the systems on boats such as electric, plumbing.” Rockland’s own Career and Technical Education School (CTE) for high schoolers, said one rep, aside from a basic boatbuilding course, offers nothing to attract or promote next generation tradesmen for Maine’s boatbuilding industry.

Earlier this month, at a small gathering, I heard Maine candidate for Governor Shawn Moody talking about pumping life into Maine technical schools. Mr. Moody said of Maine kids with aptitudes for learning the trades, “We should not be suppressing kids’ dreams.”

Amen.

There wasn’t time at that meeting to ask follow-up questions, so I called my friend, Moody’s campaign manager Lauren LePage. I wanted to know more of what Shawn has in mind.

A Governor Moody, said Lauren, would like CTE teachers to spend two weeks each year with “best-in-class” businesses. Technologies, she said, change faster than curricula, so Moody believes it’s important for CTE teachers “to get [ongoing] hands-on experience to bring into the classroom.” Also, Maine should work with parents and guidance counselors to seek out middle school kids interested in learning a trade, and encourage their aspirations.

Second, Lauren asked, how do we reform the certification process to welcome people with a lifetime of experience to come in and teach those kids? She was, Lauren said, with Shawn Moody at “a well-rounded vocational school” in Dover-Foxcroft, where “they’re really doing it right. The school programs utilize “retired professionals…who are truly experts” in their respective fields. “It’s amazing,” said Lauren.

I remember President George H.W. Bush in the 1980s talking about modifying teacher certification so experts with a passion to teach can do so, and kids with a passion to do so can learn from experts. Speaking of technology outpacing CTE curricula, online internet courses have long enabled students and experts to work together outside the classroom. Does it really make sense, in 2018, to forbid the same positive relationships inside classrooms?

Ultimately, said Lauren LePage, expressing Shawn Moody’s sentiments, “I think it’s just educating the educators about the real-life job opportunities that exist. If it inspires [educators], they’ll inspire the kids. We have no doubt,” said Lauren.

I agree with Shawn Moody. We should, inspire, not suppress, kids’ dreams. With some creativity, perhaps some buy-in from Maine’s business community, we can have a private-public partnership that does much good, and doesn’t cost a ton of money.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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