Don Fry Commentary in the BBJ: Building a path from workforce training to jobs is key

Regional Workforce Initiative cover

By Donald C. Fry

While two-thirds of Americans do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an abundance of jobs exist that don’t require college degrees. There are ample work and career opportunities for those that, for whatever reason, lack or don’t choose to pursue collegiate studies.

And while artificial intelligence and automation are expected to accelerate and displace millions of jobs nationwide by 2030, many other jobs will continue although their work may evolve with technological and other changes.

In October 2020, the Greater Baltimore Committee released Preparing for the Future: A Regional Workforce Development Initiative Report, which outlined the jobs and industries that are forecast to grow in our region over the next decade. The report found that there will be significant growth in the availability of jobs that require less than a four-year college degree, such as a specialized certification or an associate’s degree.

Focused and relevant job training programs are the key to preparing applicants for these jobs. Without enough qualified applicants for these positions, economic growth and competitiveness could be hindered.

The Preparing for the Future report explored how the Baltimore region can ensure there is a pipeline of properly educated and skilled workers to meet the future demands of employers, while also providing those who do not have or seek a college education with direct pathways to good jobs and economic mobility.

A key recommendation of the report is to ensure that educational and training programs match with employers’ projected hiring needs today and in the future. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

“The need for training systems that can keep pace with rapid changes in technology, and the nature of work itself, has never been more obvious or greater,” notes a May 13 article on workforce training.

The article notes that Working to Learn, a recent research paper by the Project on Workforce at Harvard, found some disconnects when it came to job training programs for those not pursuing a college degree.

For one, “…fewer than one in five made it a priority to develop relationships with both employers and educational institutions,” according to the Governing article. The article also noted that “Most often, the metric used to gauge success was participant completion of the program offered.”

Successful placement into an employment opportunity generally is not evaluated. Building relationships with employers to understand their hiring needs and providing a bridge from training completion directly to a job that matched the acquired skills has not been seen as a priority for many training programs.

The GBC Preparing for the Future report contained a number of recommendations that address this and other concerns outlined in the Harvard paper.

The report includes an examination of workforce readiness in the Greater Baltimore region and a set of recommendations to address challenges that are impeding readiness, while also providing solutions to ensure that the region’s high-growth industries have a pipeline of skilled workers.

The GBC report identified the top 20 family-supporting occupations in the growth industry sectors of business services, construction, healthcare and information technology. This is where the greatest impact can be realized regionally by addressing gaps in education, training and pathways to jobs.

Some of the observations of the GBC report include:

  • Programs and systems are needed to strengthen the delivery of rapid, industry recognized credentialing to workers in transition.
  • Business and industry leaders continually emphasize the need for more soft/professional skills training to prepare individuals for the workplace.
  • Business and industry should strengthen strategic partnerships with education and workforce training providers, wrap-around service providers, community members and others.
  • Structural racism contributes to ongoing disparities in access to opportunity, career advancement and equal pay for persons of color across occupations and industries.

Addressing inequities in job training and access to jobs is a concern for many, from business leaders and HR managers to workforce training providers and philanthropies. As a result, dismantling systemic racism and addressing persistent discrimination on the basis of race, gender and disability is a focus of the GBC workforce initiative.

The Harvard Project on Workforce paper found similar issues, and noted that training programs and employers must ask what more they can do to address systemic inequities that block access to career pathways.

The bottom line is that significant opportunity for economic growth and equity could be unlocked if employers, educational institutions and job training programs collaborate closely to address inequities and build interconnectivity to improve pathways directly to the jobs of the future, as the GBC initiative aims to accomplish.

The Baltimore region, with its racial diversity, training programs, colleges and universities, and high-growth industries, can lead the way.

Read the GBC Preparing for the Future report.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

Donald C. Fry is President & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.