ANNAPOLIS, MD (March 24, 2015) – Together, the 20th century industrial decline and the Great Recession hit middle-skills workers in the Baltimore region hard. They continue to struggle, with nearly one-third of the region’s population living near the poverty line during this protracted recovery.
Our economy changed. Distribution hubs and hospitals replaced steel mills and chemical plants, and with these changes came a new definition of what a skilled workforce looks like. Closing the middle-skills gap in the Baltimore region hinges on better development of workforce training, according to a study by the Opportunity Collaborative.
“Our region can build from many strategic assets,” said Michael Kelly, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, which staffs and coordinates the Opportunity Collaborative. “Our plan connects workers with those assets and industries to put them on a career pathway toward middle-skill family-supporting jobs.”
The Opportunity Collaborative released Strong Workforce, Strong Economy: The Baltimore Regional Workforce Development Strategic Plan on Tuesday, March 24, to an audience of more than 80 people, including 22 members of the Maryland General Assembly. The plan recommends more industry-led partnerships, stackable certifications and training, more career pathway planning for specific jobs, and rethinking the education system for students in kindergarten through twelfth grades so that a high school diploma could lead to a prosperous career.
“We want this to be a plan of action, not just something that collects dust,” said Danielle Torain, senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and one of the Opportunity Collaborative co-chairs. “The key is working together.”
Strong Workforce, Strong Economy is a comprehensive look at the top 13 industries and 39 middle-skills careers in the Baltimore region that will create more than 35,800 jobs by 2020. It also addresses the economic and social disparities that affect those seeking middle-skills jobs.
Adding 35,800 jobs to the region by 2020 would mean jobs for 40 percent of those who are currently unemployed.
Middle-skills jobs of growth in the region include information technology and cybersecurity, transportation and logistics, business services, construction and healthcare. These are jobs for people with an education level that is more than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year college degree, that pay an average of $23 per hour, which is enough for a single parent in Baltimore City to support a child.
Training for that group of people – about a third of the region’s population – would consist of earning an associate’s degree or skills certificate, but would yield far greater opportunity for career advancement.
Kelly spoke about the plan on “Midday with Dan Rodricks” on WYPR on Monday, March 23, in part addressing the need for career pathway planning for middle-skills workers. Kelly said he stresses rethinking workforce training.
“We need to provide somebody who’s going into the trades with an idea of what basic skills and education they’ll need starting out and how to get them to the next level and the next and so on,” Kelly said. “A good career pathways report shows the job-seeker, the employer and the trainer the skills that an upwardly mobile worker needs.”
Many employers don’t know what career pathway resources are available for them, but the key is bringing them together with those who do. For example, the goal of EARN Maryland is to work with employers to provide targeted education and skills training to employees.
“I don’t think you’re going to find any employer in the state that’s going to say that they don’t want a better skilled workforce,” Kelly said. “The partnerships and collaboration just might not exist yet.”
Likewise, Michele L. Whelley, of M.L. Whelley Consulting LLC, which works with the Collaborative, said there needs to be more industry-led partnerships. Partnerships between businesses and community colleges such as internships and apprenticeships would help job seekers gain more industry-specific and job readiness skills, both of which are imperative.
“I think there’s a strong need for businesses to get into schools much earlier than high school. Elementary and middle school kids need to understand what opportunities are out there and what they need to do to be able to access those opportunities,” Whelley said. “It’s getting into the trenches.”
Decreasing the gap for middle-skills workers also means the state – judiciary, executive and legislative branches – need to come together to support workforce development in the Baltimore region.
“The plan represents a comprehensive approach to our persistent challenges. It provides guiding principles that are actionable,” said Delegate Mary L. Washington, of Baltimore City. “This requires all branches of government.”