More than half of Maryland companies needing computer engineers and analysts say they are having "great difficulty" finding them, according to a survey released yesterday by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

But the shortage of qualified job candidates extends across many occupations, from technical to clerical, the study found. Of 525 employers responding to the survey, 85 percent said they were having trouble finding supervisors and managers; 81 percent said sales and marketing staff was hard to recruit, and 70 percent said they had trouble hiring clerical, administrative and secretarial workers.

All those percentages are significantly higher than those in a similar survey two years ago. The survey's sponsors called for closer links between employers and educators in helping raise the skill levels of Maryland employees.

There is no clear evidence that the shortage of workers is hampering Maryland's economy, said Raymond "Chip" Mason, chairman of Legg Mason Inc. and of the Maryland Roundtable, and state officials note that the shortage of skilled workers is a national problem that should not put Maryland at a competitive disadvantage.

But 45 percent of the employers responding to the survey said the shortage of qualified employees was hurting their ability to do business in Maryland, up from 38 percent who responded that way in the 1997 survey.

"This is the downside of this great national economic wave we've all riding," said David Iannucci, deputy secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development.

Three-quarters of the survey respondents said the worker shortages were reducing productivity in their companies. "On the bottom line, companies rise and fall based on their productivity and this has a significant impact on Maryland's businesses," said June Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Roundtable.