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    Somerville company offers free tuition at UMass Boston

    The library building on the campus of UMass Boston in Dorchester.
    JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF/file
    The library building on the campus of UMass Boston in Dorchester.

    Like many other bosses around here, Triumvirate Environmental’s chief executive, John McQuillan, is finding it increasingly tough to find the workers he needs.

    McQuillan, though, is taking an unusual approach to solving his problem: He’s offering to pay tuition and fees, currently about $13,000 a year, for undergraduate students at the University of Massachusetts Boston if they agree to work for his Somerville company.

    McQuillan and UMass Boston’s interim chancellor, Barry Mills, both Bowdoin College alumni, teamed up last fall to design the Triumvirate Scholars Program. Under the program, slated to start in the fall, students will go to school full time in their first two years at UMass Boston and then work full time at Triumvirate for the next two years. Some work could count toward educational credits, and students could take online classes to help meet their graduation requirements.

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    “This isn’t going to preclude anyone from graduating within four years, but they’re going to have to work really hard to do it,” Mills said.

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    Triumvirate would promise the students entry-level jobs once they graduate. The company specializes in hazardous waste and medical waste removal and employs about 1,000 people in 19 US states and Canada.

    At first, five to 10 students are expected to participate, all of them juniors. Mills said the school plans to admit first-year students in the future, providing them with internships at Triumvirate between their freshman and sophomore years. Triumvirate would pay for all four years of tuition for those participants.

    McQuillan said he would like to see 40 to 50 students enrolled by 2020. That means the company could end up spending more than $500,000 a year.

    “They walk away with a bachelor’s degree from a great university, no debt, and [two] years of experience under their belt with a brand-name company,” McQuillan said.

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    Mills and McQuillan have known each other for years. Mills is a former president of Bowdoin College, and McQuillan serves on its board of trustees. McQuillan said the tight job market — the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is at a low 3.5 percent — prompted him to reach out to Mills about launching the program.

    Triumvirate has not set a requirement for how long workers would need to stay post-graduation, beyond the time they work while they are still in school. But it may do so in the future, depending on the company’s needs.

    Mills said this is the first time that he’s aware of that a company has agreed to pay for students’ UMass Boston bills in return for working for that employer.

    A spokesman for the University of Massachusetts system said none of the other campuses have a similar program. However, experiential learning and on-the-job training is also a high priority at the other UMass schools, in part because employers in a variety of fields are clamoring for more workers. It’s one of the main factors behind UMass Amherst chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s decision to approve the controversial purchase of the Mount Ida campus in Newton. Subbaswamy sees the campus as playing a critical role in expanding access for internships and co-ops in Greater Boston.

    Mills, meanwhile, expects to leave UMass Boston this summer. But he said the partnership with Triumvirate can be a model for other employers that want to strengthen their talent pipelines.

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    “Our hope is to show this program to other businesses and say, ‘Come on board, it benefits us and it benefits you,’ ” Mills said.

    Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.