More than 140 people attended the release of the Opportunity Collaborative's "Study of Barriers to Employment Opportunities in the Baltimore Region" on Monday, June 2, at the National Electronics Museum. The study's author, Chris Seals, presented highlights, followed by a panel discussion by regional workforce and transportation experts.
More than 140 people attended the release of the Opportunity Collaborative’s “Study of Barriers to Employment Opportunities in the Baltimore Region” on Monday, June 2, at the National Electronics Museum. The study’s author, Chris Seals, presented highlights, followed by a panel discussion by regional workforce and transportation experts.

An increase in workforce development strategies and resources, improved support for job seekers and better public transportation are among several proposed strategies that would help more than 81,000 unemployed adults in the Baltimore region find work, according to a several industry experts.

More than 140 people attended the release of the Opportunity Collaborative’s “Study of Barriers to Employment Opportunities in the Baltimore Region” on Monday, June 2, at the National Electronics Museum in Anne Arundel County. The event, hosted in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, featured a presentation of the study by author Chris Seals and a panel discussion by local transportation and workforce development experts. The Opportunity Collaborative is staffed and coordinated by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

“The region is on the right track with its workforce strategies. What’s needed is more of them,” said Seals, labor economist and senior vice president for RDA Global Business Market Research. “The Opportunity Collaborative is developing a toolkit for employers to help seekers build job readiness skills.”

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There are six barriers to employment opportunities for those living in the Baltimore region, according to the study. Eighty-two percent of those seeking jobs face three or more of those barriers. They include:

  • Basic skills – A lack of education, professional demeanor, computer or technical skills limit job seekers.
  • Industry and career – Jobs where workers could earn a living wage of $22 per hour are limited for those without a bachelor’s degree; higher education and career training are expensive; and those seeking jobs with limited skills and experience are unsure where to begin pursuing skill and educational advancement toward a career.
  • Transportation and housing – Low-income residents in the Baltimore region cannot effectively use public transit to reach growing job centers in the area; public transit hours of operation are not conducive to off-hour shift workers; the cost of public transit is high for low-income people; jobs that require a driver’s license, which is a challenge to obtain for adults in Maryland, excludes them from industries such as transportation logistics and construction; and a lack of permanent, quality, affordable housing keeps workers from maintaining jobs.
  • Social – Low-income people struggle with social aspects of finding jobs such as long commutes between work, child care and other necessities; criminal records hindering job applications; dressing professionally and other necessities for an interview; finding support and remaining resilient when encountering setbacks; and health, mental health and addiction issues that impede the ability to consistently work.
  • Structural racism – An array of societal dynamics – such as historic wealth disparities, unequal treatment by the justice systems and dissimilar consideration in interviews – that routinely put minority job seekers at a disadvantage relative to their white counterparts.
  • System limitations – Federal funding for workforce training significantly declined during the last decade. There also are many restrictions placed on those funds that make it difficult for providers to work with populations that struggle to find employment.

The study therefore sheds light on unfounded stereotypes of low-income, low-skill unemployed people seeking jobs. “Generally the assumption is that people don’t want to work. This shows that that’s not true,” said Scot Spencer, Opportunity Collaborative co-chairman and director of Advocacy & Influence for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The panelists addressed these barriers by offering strategies to help improve workforce preparation, basic skills, transportation options, structural racism and resources.

For Robert L. Smith, administrator and CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration, steps are being taken to better connect job seekers to transit. About 85 percent of jobs in the Baltimore region are outside of Baltimore City, Smith said. So MTA is collaborating with transportation planning entities, the public, local officials and other to create a comprehensive plan that will feature new technology, network changes and faster paced transit.

“Promoting public transit – that option, we think, is important,” Smith said. “This is a major overhaul that we’re looking to do.”

Julie Keough, U.S. customer service manager for Sims Recycling Solutions, said that for job seekers to obtain work, they need support from workforce development entities to help address and improve social barriers such as consistently showing up for work on-time.

“Overcoming social barriers is essential,” Keough said.

Likewise, improving education and skills will help low-income people obtain jobs and improve their chances of workforce advancement, said Sister Patricia A. McLaughlin, SSND, executive director of Caroline Center.

“The strategies to get people into college and supporting them through it – They’re such huge barriers to overcome,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a huge gap there that needs to be filled in.”

For Bruce England, executive director of the Susquehanna Workforce Network, pulling resources and collaboration will be key to successfully helping low-income and low-skilled people find careers.

“To solve education problem, we need to identify resources, raise awareness and collaborate,” England said.

The detail of the study benefits programs such as EARN Maryland, which is managed by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR). EARN Maryland is a skills training and economic development initiative that is designed to ensure that Maryland employers have the talent they need to compete and grow while providing targeted education and skills training to workers. DLLR also announced on Monday, June 2, the 28 recipients of EARN Maryland Implementation Grants.

“The EARN Maryland Implementation Grants will fund industry-designed training to fill critical skills gaps identified by our strategic industry partners, many of which are highlighted in the Opportunity Collaborative’s barriers study. The report and its strategy recommendations can help jump start those conversations among EARN Maryland industry partners — in the Baltimore region and across the state,” said Elisabeth Sachs, senior advisor for EARN Maryland. “The timing of the study’s release with our award announcements has been tremendous.  It shines a spotlight on the innovative model of industry-based partnerships and targeted skills training under EARN Maryland as a way to help solve the very real and specific challenges outlined in the study. I expect that the study will generate some concrete policy changes and further collaborations between the public and private sectors.  We are thrilled to be a part of that process.”

The “Study of Barriers to Employment Opportunities in the Baltimore Region” is the second report released by the Opportunity Collaborative to bring together workforce development, transportation and housing. The first, the “Baltimore Regional Talent Development Pipeline Study,” which was released in October 2013, highlights 39 occupations in five job sectors that offer the best opportunities for workers without a college degree. The next study will address career pathways to transportation and logistics. The final step is to combine the research of each study to prepare a Regional Workforce Development Plan for Baltimore.

Still, Martin G. Knott, Jr., chairman of the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board and moderator of the panel discussion, said that he sees the big picture when it comes to workforce development in the Baltimore region. “I truly believe that workforce development is economic development,” Knott said.

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