By: Catherine Buxton, Maine Equal Justice and Peer Workforce Navigator Program 

Do you want to learn a new trade or continue your education so you can find a meaningful and stable career? The Competitive Skills Scholarship Program can help! 

Recent changes to the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program (CSSP) make it easier for more Mainers to pay for education, job training, and the tools necessary to succeed in school. CSSP is a program managed by the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) that offers funding and support services to low-income Mainers who enroll in training or education programs to prepare for jobs in well-paying and high-demand fields. 

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that increased the amount of funding each CSSP participant may receive. Now students can get up to $10,000 if they are enrolled in school full time or $5,000 if they are part time. The program’s new rules also allow asylum-seekers to enroll, even if they don’t yet have a work permit. This is a great opportunity for immigrants who are awaiting work authorization to receive support services and, in some cases, a small stipend as they gain valuable skills to enter the workforce.

Apprentices and pre-apprentices are now also eligible for CSSP, too. With so many apprenticeship programs offering paid on-the-job training across the state, CSSP can be a great resource to help people access these programs and afford books, tools, and other start-up costs. Apprenticeships are available in skilled trades or even with labor unions, like those for electricians or construction workers. But there are new programs in professional fields, too, such as healthcare, cybersecurity or computer engineering, banking, and even aquaculture. (See the list at https://www.maine.gov/labor/jobs_training/apprenticeship.) 

Even if you are enrolled in a paid training program, you still may qualify for funding to help with costs like books, tools, transportation, childcare, or other things you may need to successfully complete your program. Additionally, CSSP can help pay for credit transfers, transcripts, and administrative costs your program may require. If you need help picking a training program or preparing your CSSP application, contact a Peer Workforce Navigator for help through http://www.workforcenavigator.org.

You can apply to CSSP online at https://www.maine.gov/labor/careerctr/cssp.shtml or in in-person at any Maine Career Center location (https://www.mainecareercenter.gov/). Currently, MDOL recommends applying at least one to two months ahead of when your program starts, and you can submit your application as early as six months in advance. Once you apply, you will be asked to submit documents like proof of Maine residency and income, so be sure to check your email and paper mail for notifications. You will then be matched with a CSSP case manager who will assess eligibility and assist you throughout your training process. 

Though it’s called a scholarship program, eligibility for CSSP is based on income, not on academic merit, grades, or other qualifications. To be considered you must be a resident of Maine who meets all of the following qualifications: 

  1. Over 18 years old or has graduated from high school.
  2. Low income – Your household must earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level. (Note: Many applicants who live with family or roommates may need to submit only their own income and will be considered as a household of 1, especially if they file their own taxes. If you aren’t sure if you qualify, you still should apply and a Case Manager will help you calculate your household income and eligibility.).
  3. Enrolled in an approved training program for a high-demand and high-wage job or field. You will be asked to pick a field that needs workers and offers sustainable wages and growth opportunities. The list of approved fields is on the CSSP website (https://www.mainecareercenter.gov/docs/2021/cssp/CSSP2021HighWageInDemandlist.pdf). If your chosen field is not on the list, you may petition or make the case that it is a high-demand or high-wage occupation when you apply to the program. Programs need to be approved by MDOL and can include community college, university, or certificate programs, or any pre/apprenticeship program program/
  4. Is not a graduate with an existing “marketable” degree. If you have a degree that already qualifies you for an in-demand, high wage job, you may not be eligible. 

For more information about these requirements or how to find a qualified training program and high-wage occupation, we encourage you to see the CSSP website (https://www.maine.gov/labor/careerctr/cssp.shtml) and then talk to a Peer Workforce Navigator about your goals. The navigators have helped numerous community members apply for the program. If you want help or are having issues with your application, please go to your local Maine Career Center or make an appointment with a Peer Workforce Navigator at www.workforcenavigator.org/contact-us. Our staff speak English, Arabic, French, Lingala, Somali, Spanish, and Swahili. Interpreters also available upon request.