The Androscoggin Mill in Jay. Credit: Courtesy of Verso Corp.

Almost 200 former Jay paper mill employees who lost their jobs after an April explosion can get free training and classes at two of Maine’s community colleges.

Pennsylvania-based Pixelle Specially Solutions laid off 177 people in three rounds of layoffs this year after the explosion. The company also said that it would not rebuild the digester destroyed in the explosion, although it plans to keep the mill open.

The layoffs were an economic blow to the area from which some people worry it might not recover. Gov. Janet Mills called the news “another blow to Maine’s vital forest products sector” and vowed to help those laid off workers.

Last week, Pixelle announced a $1 million education fund for displaced workers to use at Central Maine Community College in Auburn and Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. Displaced employees can use this fund to learn new skills or enroll in an associate degree at the two community colleges, according to Maine Community College System spokesperson Noel Gallagher.

The former employees can choose between a two-year degree in more than 40 areas of study, a one-year certificate program in more than 20 fields or short-term workforce training in fields related to health care, information technology, or technical trades.

All employees who want to use these funds for their education must enroll in the community college system by July 5, 2021.

The cost of tuition, fees and materials will be completely covered by the Pixelle education fund.

“We partnered with Maine’s community colleges because we want these workers to have easy access to a broad range of high-quality retraining options,” said Eric Hanson, Pixelle mill manager in Jay. “Our community benefits, the workers get the training they choose and our local businesses know the local pool of skilled workers is growing.”

The community college system said it is working with the Maine Department of Labor to provide assistance to the dislocated workers and help them identify next steps.