CALAIS — Haul the traps and get to the closest computer because class is in session. Washington County Community College is launching a first-of-its-kind course to give a top-to-bottom education on Maine’s famous red-claw crustacean.
The Business of Maine Lobster will be a 10-week course that will provide an overview of the lobster supply chain, showing participants everything needed to get the state’s most famous export from the seafloor to the restaurant plate.
The class is free, open to the public and can be taken for three college credits if desired.
“It could be earlier college folks, traditional lobstermen or sternmen,” said Denise Cilley, the entrepreneur program director at the Sunrise County Economic Council, which helped put on the class. “It could literally be anybody.”
The college and council have partnered on other job training programs. This program started to form after talking to players in the lobster industry.
Almost anyone who has been to a Maine coastline has seen the hauling of traps and knows how the literal act of lobstering is done, but there’s a lot more to the industry than that, said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association.
“People think that the lobster industry is just lobstering,” she said. But to get a lobster from Stonington to Singapore takes people with various talents. “People don’t understand there are a lot of jobs and responsibility in handling that product in that supply chain.”
It requires wharf workers, truck drivers, logistic specialists, refrigeration specialists, plumbers, HVAC workers and marine biologists. Even the more run-of-the mill jobs that can be found in almost any corporate environment, such as human resources or accounting, can be essential to running a successful operation.
“We want people to understand that there are incredible options that aren’t on the water but still in the industry,” Tselikis said.
The class will be held on Thursdays over livestream starting April 22 and registration started last week (April 15). The sessions will be taped so people can catch up on their own time. Each weekly session will cover a different topic ranging from procurement and sales to logistics and transportation. Participants will be tasked to come up with solutions to some of the current challenges facing the industry.
Curt Brown, a lobsterman and marine biologist at Ready Seafood, one of the partners in the course, will be teaching a class on the biology of lobsters. Knowing the life cycle of the lobster can improve harvests, storage and shipping processes.
“There’s a real need, not just in the seafood industry but most industries, to develop a workforce,” Brown said.
The Business of Lobster course will help raise awareness about the opportunities in the industry and all the different jobs that are associated with it.
“What we found is there is a real need to demonstrate and show and teach what we do,” Brown said.
People have started enrolling and there has been a strong interest from people within the Department of Corrections population as a way to learn a new skill. Tselikis heard from a guidance counselor in South Portland that was sharing the course with her students.
Cilley said there isn’t a cap on enrollment.
The lobster business has been working so hard to maintain itself over the years, that professional development kind of fell by the wayside, organizers said. Getting a solid workforce now is as hard as ever with less seasonal visa workers.
Tselikis grew jealous of how other industries had programs to create a workforce pipeline and wondered why hers didn’t have one. This course could change that tide and help cut down on the amount of time employers are spending on on-the-job training.
Although the class is just starting, she was hopeful it could grow.
“It’s very exciting and we are looking at opportunities to sustain this long-term,” Tselikis said.