LEWISTON — Emily Letourneau has been sewing since she was 7 years old, but she's had a difficult time building a career in that field.
Her boyfriend, a welder, had taught her how to make a simple seam with hot metal instead of thread.
She knew how to lay out patterns for the many quilts she has sewn.
“It's the same kind of mindset,” she said. "You have to measure and cut out.”
She had the hand dexterity required and the experience in piecing together a pattern.
“That's really what drew me to it,” she said. “And it's something you can have a career with. There aren't many industrial sewing places in the country.”
So Letourneau signed up for a 12-week welding training program at the New England School of Metalwork in Auburn. She graduated Friday, along with five others who received framed certificates and black T-shirts.
Letourneau, 21, of Lewiston and her fellow graduates were hired by Senior Flexonics Pathway Metroflex at 29 Lexington Ave. in Lewiston, to start Monday.
It's not a coincidence.
When that company was facing a shortage of skilled welders, Don Mondor, manufacturing manager at the company, phoned the CareerCenter. Three years earlier, he had picked up seven welders through a job-training program run by a state agency.
This time, he worked with the CareerCenter, Western Maine Community Action and the metalwork school to develop a 12-week training program with a curriculum tailored to his company's shop-floor needs. That way, the trainees would be able to hit the ground running once they completed the program.
The employer-focused training approach to developing career skills for the unemployed and underemployed used in that class was pioneered by the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership. It has been adopted by the Maine Department of Labor's Bureau of Unemployment Services as a model for other employers in the state.
Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette spoke at Friday's graduation, praising the program and its employer-initiated approach to job creation.
“We can't do it alone anymore,” she said. “We don't have the resources in any agency, any business, any education program that will help do it in a silo.”
She said, “This is a great example of what the LePage administration, the Department of Labor and the other agencies involved (consider) a great opportunity for us to learn from so we can replicate it.”
On Thursday, the state received a $4.86 million grant to continue those types of programs, she said.