ROCKLAND — The critical importance of training young people for a career in the trades was highlighted during a forum held last week.

Business owners and educators met Tuesday, Jan. 17 at the Mid-Coast School of Technology for one of a series of forums held by the St. George Municipal School Unit. The Jan. 17 forum was titled “CTE for All: Engaging Students, Growing Businesses, & Strengthening our Communities.”

St. George Superintendent Mike Felton pointed out the effort that is being made in the St. George district. The community has raised $1.6 million to build a career technical education/makerspace adjacent to the school. The cost of the project, however, has risen sharply and the fundraising is continuing.

He said the cost has gone up, in part, because of a labor shortage.

“The irony is not lost on us,” Felton said.

Chip Bauer, owner of Harbor Builder Associates of St. George, said the average time to build a house has gone from eight to 10 months to 12 to 14 months because there are fewer electricians and plumbers and other tradespeople to do the work.

“It’s impossible to find workers,” Bauer said, noting his company had 47 employees in 1998 and is now down to 17.

There has been a steady decline of workers since the Great Recession of 2008, he noted.

Bettina Doulton, owner of Phi Builders and Architects in Rockport, said the Baby Boom generation is retiring and the birth rate is declining.

Doulton said the demographic shift and the likely end of an extended period of low interest rates and cheap capital. This poses a challenge but also an opportunity, she said, as money that had been fueling consumer spending will be re-directed to infrastructure upgrades. That will require workers who are engaged and critical thinkers.

Gary Minery of G.C. Minery Plumbing and Heating in St. George agreed about the shortage of workers. He said the approach by the St. George School was the correct one, by getting students interested in the trades at a younger age.

Paul Meinersmann, technology and Makerspace director for the school, said the project will provide a shop space for woodworking, boatbuilding, and metalwork; a Makerspace with 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, robotics, and sewing machines; and a classroom that can be used by all students in the St. George School. The facility will also be available for adult education.

Steve Ladd, president and chief executive officer of Steel-Pro Inc., said the company has faced the same challenges in finding workers. He said the most critical shortage has been finding welders and fabricators.

“That has limited our growth,” Ladd said.

He said posting jobs online resulted in no recruitment. The company, however, connected with the Waldo County Technical Center in Belfast and has been successful in hiring eight graduates from that technical center in the past few years. He said the students coming from that welding program are hard workers, good team players, and good welders.

Robert Deetjen, the director of the Mid-Coast School of Technology, said the key was to get students interested in the trades at a younger age.

“Seldom do you see a welder walk into an elementary school (for career days),” Deetjen said. “Even though the majority of six and seven year olds would love to see them.”

Jaime MacCaffray, a classroom teacher at the St. George School, said the students get excited and find satisfaction in hands-on projects. Makerspace projects are integrated into the other studies, she said.