Workforce shortage in Maine’s aquaculture industry has been an obstacle to growth for many businesses and could stunt the industry’s tremendous growth potential. To address this, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), The Maine Aquaculture Association (MAA), and Educate Maine partnered on The Maine Aquaculture Workforce Development Strategy- a forward thinking strategic roadmap for Maine to achieve a cohesive and comprehensive workforce training pipeline that meets the needs of today’s industry and anticipates future workforce needs as the industry evolves. To ensure objectivity and learn from countries with developed aquaculture industries, a team of Scottish consultants were hired. Direct input from Maine’s commercial aquaculture businesses formed the base of the analysis. Considerable progress has been made towards implementing the Strategy since it was published in 2020. The first-generation Maine Aquaculture Occupational Standards were developed collaboratively by MAA, GMRI, and Educate Maine; and were published October 2021. Currently GMRI, MAA, Educate Maine, and Southern Maine Community College are working together to develop and pilot a Maine Department of Labor Aquaculture Apprenticeship Program where participants will gain valuable experience, receive mentoring, and get trained and tested on defined occupational competencies. We continue to coordinate program development and delivery between the Community College system, Career Technical Education schools, Department of Labor, and University of Maine to establish matriculation pathways and dual-credit programs that enable fast-tracked degree completion.
In October 2020, GMRI and MAA launched a free-to use aquaculture business knowledge portal, called The Maine Aquaculturist. The site was created with one customer in mind –Maine’s aquaculture industry. Our aim was to help Maine aquaculture businesses fully utilize the incredible suite of business-relevant support resources provided by various organizations. The creation process was driven by extensive user testing with a variety of aquaculture businesses therefore, the resulting architecture, design, and features of The Maine Aquaculturist were created based on direct industry feedback. After launch, anecdotal industry feedback was gathered, the site’s usage was tracked using Google Analytics and additional user testing sessions were conducted. As a result, it was decided to refine the first version of the site and The Maine Aquaculturist 2.0 was launched in September 2021. These updates included the addition of new pages, minor changes to the visual design, and the optimization of some advanced features. The portal currently includes a Getting Started Guide, a Resource Database that houses over 250 resources, a Job Board, a Regulation/Legislation Updates page, and an Industry Perspectives page. GMRI had continued to update content and gather feedback from the industry which has been positive and constructive.