The traditional job fair model for connecting college students and employers just isn’t cutting it in Maine, according to a coalition that has formed to help alleviate the state’s workforce crisis.
Industry-funded workforce development groups Live + Work in Maine and Educate Maine have joined forces for a pilot program this fall that seeks to reduce the number of Maine college students who leave after graduation. They said Maine’s escalating labor shortage requires more creative methods of enticing recent graduates to stay in the state.
Their approach will include hiring student interns to conduct “guerrilla marketing” activities at Maine colleges and universities, and an unusual partnership with a ride-sharing app for students called Tip Whip that is popular on the University of Maine campus in Orono.
Job fairs work well on some college campuses, but they tend to showcase certain large employers while doing little to inform students about small and midsize employers, which represent the lion’s share of career opportunities in Maine, said Nate Wildes, executive director of Live + Work.
“One of the things we can do is bring that point of access to these smaller employers, midsize employers, who may not have the time or capacity to engage one-on-one with the career office at a university,” he said. “We can help connect (students) with opportunities that exist already, so it’s easier for the employer, and its easier for the kids to find out (about) these opportunities.”
The pilot program will include UMaine, Husson University in Bangor, Thomas College in Waterville and the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Wildes said. The workforce development groups will hire a student intern at each campus to oversee the program and conduct outreach activities, he said.
In addition to disseminating information about Maine employers and networking with campus organizations, the interns will help coordinate events where students can meet employers, learn about job opportunities and forge connections that can help start their careers in Maine after they graduate, Wildes said. Their job will include shaping the program at each campus based on the individual needs and characteristics of its student body.
“It’s going to be some guerrilla marketing work,” Wildes said. “It’s going to be handing out fliers, stickers, T-shirts – getting the message out that Maine employers are eager to hire them, there’s a lot of opportunity here, and before you immediately go looking out of state for your internship or job after graduation, take a look at what Maine has to offer.”
Live + Work and Educate Maine are hiring paid interns and plan to launch the program in October, he said.
The program also has recruited Spencer Wood, a UMaine graduate who now operates a startup venture called Tip Whip. The company started in 2014 at UMaine as a ride service that picked up students after a night of drinking in exchange for voluntary tips. Now it offers an app similar to Uber or Lyft and is available on more than a dozen campuses nationwide, including UMaine and Husson.
Tip Whip has roughly 8,000 active users and 150 drivers at UMaine alone, according to Wood.
The service still operates exclusively on tips, is strictly for students and hires only students as drivers, Wood said. It also features a weekly electronic newsletter that is very popular among users of the app, Wood said, which is where the opportunity to partner with the student outreach program arose.
“Their hardest challenge is getting in front of the students and getting their message to them,” he said. “We’re essentially collecting the masses and then we’re delivering the message for Live + Work in Maine and Educate Maine directly to the students.”
Jason Judd, executive director of Educate Maine, said the two workforce development groups have worked together on previous campus outreach programs, but that this is their first stab at a grassroots approach.
In addition to spreading the word, the organizers also hope to collect feedback from students about the barriers that might be preventing them from considering Maine as their prime choice for settling down, having a career and raising a family, Judd said.
“This partnership … is really about increasing the awareness of college students of great opportunities for employment here in the state,” he said.