A new group of government, community and business leaders who met for the first time Friday will help develop strategies so that Southern Maryland may grow its own work force of high tech, retail and tourist industry workers, said St. Mary's County Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson.
Anderson (D-Drayden) has spearheaded the project during the past year to form a work force investment board. The 57-member group of education, business, government and community leaders gathered in Leonardtown for an introductory session attended by Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D).
"The way we live and work is undergoing a revolution," Townsend said. "To master this revolution, we need to change how we educate and train our citizens. It begins in our schools, but it cannot end in our schools."
The Local Workforce Investment Board replaces the Southern Maryland Private Industry Council, a regional group that was supposed to help develop job training strategies for the region. Anderson said the new board will play a more strategic role in developing the "home-grown work force" that the business community needs, and it will involve more people.
"Private, public and nonprofit sectors--all of us must find effective ways to work together and identify our work force development needs and turn those needs into jobs," Anderson said.
Anderson said training programs that provide entry-level jobs are not enough if Southern Maryland is to compete for regional and national businesses.
"We must seed the marketplace with internships, apprenticeships, workplace mentoring and cooperative education where mentors help students coordinate their studies with a job in the field related to their skills and interests," Anderson said.
Across the state, for instance, a recent survey showed that about 83 percent of Maryland businesses have had trouble finding qualified workers.
"It's affecting their ability to do business," Anderson said.
"The amount of resources to identify and attract skilled personnel in information technology can be prohibitive. This impacts our ability to compete," said Robert Fenwick, president of Advanced Engineering Applications Inc., an information technology business in Lexington Park.
In Charles County, for instance, a training program for people going into the retail business would be a good way to address the local labor requirements, said Jim Hodak, owner of RNM Printers in Waldorf.
One way to accomplish that is to involve educators in discussions about courses that schools offer, Hodak said.
"Educators don't get many opportunities to talk with the business community in kind of a collective fashion and in terms of getting the full perspective," said Elaine Ryan, president of the Charles County Community College. "There are lots of employment needs and limited resources to meet them. What are the priorities?"
St. Mary's County, home to an emerging regional high technology center, is in need of high tech workers, who have become increasingly scarce.
"I think it's a good way to have an opportunity to pave the way for people to come out of this region. In the past, we've had to import a bunch of people from outside the area. Obviously, we have a bunch of very smart people in our area," said John McAllister, president of Eagan-McAllister Associates Inc., a defense contractor in Lexington Park.
McAllister said his firm has 50 openings in information technology that he has been unable to fill.
In St. Mary's County, efforts have been made in recent years to address work force training. For instance, courses in Microsoft systems are now part of the community college curriculum, and students can take classes that lead to certification as software engineers, said Jane Sypher, executive director at the Community College at St. Mary's.
"With the [work force investment board], hopefully we would be able to position the region in an even more effective way," Sypher said.
Patricia M. Richardson, superintendent of St. Mary's County public schools, pointed to a $20 million plan to build a new technical training center where students can get early training and retraining in information technology, as well as in hospitality and tourism.
Training at the center could lead students to paid or unpaid interships with local businesses, she said.
All these efforts, Sypher said, are geared toward making sure that "graduates out of high school and the community college are prepared to enter the work force that is in their own back yard."