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In an effort to meet the various unmet demands of industry around the state and the country, Washington County Community College [WCCC] has created a new position – the Dean of Business and Industry Training – to spearhead its campaigns of building and improving workforce programming. Nichole Sawyer, who has worked with the Maine Department of Labor [DOL] for 25 years, was the perfect fit for the new role.
After growing up in Milbridge, Sawyer graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in public administration. From there, she began working with the MDOL as a counselor for the Summer Youth Employment and Training Program, and eventually became manager of the Career Centers in Machias and Calais before taking on the directorship for the Career Centers between Augusta and Presque Isle. “So, I’ve been doing workforce development for as long as I can remember,” summarized Sawyer.
Sawyer was hired as WCCC’s Dean of Business and Industry Training in July. While Sawyer acknowledges that she has a “a lot to learn in the world of education,” she feels confident that she’s in the right place to do it. “I’m super excited to be part of this team and focusing on Washington County and this institution, and I certainly have a wonderful group of teammates to get to know and work alongside.”
In her new position, Sawyer is focused on workforce development programming, meaning she connects with businesses, employers and industry leaders to talk about workforce training needs and assists individuals in entering careers and employment by establishing a skill base and new career opportunities. One of Sawyer’s strongest assets that she’s retained from her work with the Department of Labor is a network of numerous connections in different industries across the state.
With a few months at WCCC soundly under her belt, Sawyer is exploring some new possibilities that will expand the college’s curriculum with new forms of in-demand training to simultaneously meet the needs of individual employment and industry. “Currently, I’m focusing on manufacturing and production,” Sawyer said. “The labor market needs and workforce needs statewide – in every occupation – are vast, and there’s some serious skill gaps, as well as gaps in the number of people who will be able to fill those positions. And, so, we’re clearly going to tackle those skill gaps the best that we know how.”
For Sawyer, the flexibility of the college in how it can meet the needs of industry is one of the most exciting potentials of her position. “The sky’s the limit with our programming, which is one of the things that I find most exciting about this,” she shared. “When I’m out talking to business and industry leaders, it’s really about listening and then bringing that back. It might be that we tweak our current offerings, or it might be that we bring a whole entire program up, or it might be that the company just needs a couple of workshops for their incumbent workers.” Sawyer is keen on helping businesses of any size in filling their roster with trained, competent workers.
A lifelong resident of Washington County, being able to help her immediate community by serving in workforce development at WCCC is deeply rewarding for Sawyer. “My passion lies in helping people become economically sustained and to prosper,” she says. “It’s an interesting time to be in workforce development. We’re sort of in a crisis mode nationwide, statewide, and certainly regionally. But, there’s lots of innovation and room for great ideas, creativity, collaboration and partnership, which is what we’ve always been good at in Washington County.”